Monday, January 31, 2005

Same sex marriage

(A very old post.)
I had remarked on a Dennis Prager interview with two sociologists, John Borneman and Laurie Hart, on the subject of marriage. One of the things that had struck me during the interview was the wide variety of human relationships that could qualify as "marriage" under the definition being proposed.
I had taken a recording of the interview with me on a trip, and when I heard it again, I remembered that I had wanted to e-mail the interviewees and ask if this was an outrageous interpretation. Finding e-dresses was easy, and today, I received a reply.
On Sunday, May 30, 2004, at 01:09 AM, Karl Lembke wrote:
Greetings: I heard your interview with Dennis Prager on the subject of marriage. As the discussion went back and forth over the essential criteria that define "marriage", I was struck by the number of possible human institutions that could conceivably fit the definition. Given that the definition appears to encompass, in its indispensable points, little more than one person leaving a dependency relationship with one group and entering one with a different group, I'm wondering if it's possible to exclude legal adoption or fostering of a child from the definition of "marriage". In other words, does it violate the sense of the anthropological definition of "marriage" to regard an adopted child as having been "married" by its adoptive parents? Thank you for sitting for the interview.
Dear Karl, one of the more intelligent comments we received. In fact, you are right if one is consistent theoretically. That is, take the issue of care and dependency, as the basis for marriage. Of course, this is also an ideal condition, and necessary, but never sufficient in any particular place. Things are always tacked on (like age or class or residence restrictions, not to speak of sexual ones). Personally, given the delegitimation of class or race-based forms of exclusion, I favor a minimalist definition of marriage as those dependency relationships that require particular kinds of social care. all the best, John
Calling my comments "intelligent" is a good way to stay off of my bad side, and the rest of the reply sort of confirmed a though I had while listening to the interview. If we take the proposed definition of a transfer of dependency relationship from one group to another as a Generalized Anthropological Definition of Marriage (GAD), then "marriage" becomes defined so broadly as to be almost meaningless. At the very least...
... it would appear that legal adoption and fostering do fall under the Generalized Anthropologists' Definition (GAD) of "marriage". Therefore, same-sex marriage is already legal in this country, and we can quit fighting over the issue.
Like that'll ever work.

How will the day be remembered?

Laura Ingraham speculated this morning that in the future, Iraqis will celebrate their independence day with, among other things, blue marks on their fingers.

Hillary Clinton under the weather?

Senator Clinton collapsed today during a speech on Social Security. She blamed a stomach virus.

I wish her good health, and hope it's nothing more serious than her new moderate positions on various topics not sitting well.

The Meyer article

A one-stop location for a lot of the news and commentary about the publication of Meyer's paper on ID/IOT.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

But how about the science?

Sternberg did publish Meyer's piece in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. People are in an uproar over the equivalent of astrology being published in that journal. But how is the science?

After citing a 6,000 word review which dissects the bad science in the paper, showing "the big picture view of why it is poor science that shouldn't have made it past any qualified reviewers", P.Z. Myers takes a look at one paragraph to show why (I'll say it – in his opinion) "why it represents poor, biased scholarship."
I'm motivated in part by a ridiculous critique from Joe Carter. One of the things he does (in his second point, if you bother to read it) is a practice creationist pseudoscientists are getting very good at, and that Meyer also practices in his paper: throwing a bunch of scientific references at the reader that, in Carter's case, the creationist has never read, or in Meyer's case, may have read but misrepresents. How many people would bother to check that these esoteric references are being reported accurately? How many of us who actually are comfortable with the scientific literature have the time to cross-check and report all of the misrepresentations being made? I sure don't. That's why I'm just going to pick on one paragraph. <snip> The idea behind scientific citations is that they should be papers supporting the ideas being discussed, and are shortcuts for the author—instead of tediously enumerating all the evidence to support a claim, he points the reader to another source that documents it. There is a bit of trust involved; a scientific paper may easily throw 50 references at the reader, and it's a difficult chore to check them all. (This, by the way, is one reason peer-review is supposed to be done by individuals qualified in the field; they are likely to have already read many of the cited papers, are more or less familiar with their contents, and reviewing one paper doesn't necessarily involve scurrying to the library and reading 50 more papers to see if they were correctly represented.)

So how well do the citations check out? Not very.

Now you might be able to see what a qualified reviewer would see when reading the Meyer paper. It's full of these peculiar disconnects from the reality of the scientific literature—he's constantly citing little fragments of papers while ignoring the bulk of the work. It's a more rarefied version of more typical creationist quote mining, made slightly more sophisticated and much more difficult to check, and designed to wow the rubes rather than persuade anyone knowledgeable in the subject.

I'm willing to believe Sternberg has been thrown out of his office, and that his job may be in jeopardy. But I suspect demonstrated incompetence is probably a stronger motive than any sort of "witch hunt".

Tit for tat?

In a World Net Daily article, we may learn that Richard Sternberg's career may be in jeopardy after he published a review article on the state of Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

Now, this is the first time any article on ID/IOT has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, and it is definitely raising hackles.

Now, we read a report that the editor has been asked serious questions about his world-view.

The complaint says the chairman of the Zoology Department, Jonathan Coddington, called Sternberg's supervisor to look into the matter. "First, he asked whether Sternberg was a religious fundamentalist. She told him no. Coddington then asked if Sternberg was affiliated with or belonged to any religious organization. ... He then asked where Sternberg stood politically; ... he asked, 'Is he a right-winger? What is his political affiliation?'

Now the article quotes people who allege that the Smithsonian is biased against conservative Christians, which may even be true. Certainly, I've heard any number of people making off-handed remarks about "fundies". The problme is, there are "fundies" of all stripes, including both Republican and Democrat ones.

I agree with Clayton when he says,
Sorry, but I don't see that any of these questions should have been asked. This is not the reaction of scientists who have confidence that their position is correct, and that Intelligent Design is nonsense – or even just wrong.

Indeed, in a perfect world, the proper response to the publication in a science journal on, say, astrology, would be to publish, once again, the reams of evidence that shows no force exists capable of causing the effects astrology is believed to cause, and that attempts to find statistical correlations with the positions of the planets are few and far between.

Isaac Asimov wrote an essay discussing Velikovsky's theories of the history of the solar system. On one occasion, Velikovsky was subjected to very shoddy treatment, which was wrong. AS Asimov pointed out, the "science" in the article was enough to discredit Velikovsky's work.

Clayton has some comments about Asimov, and about the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).

By the end of the second year, The Skeptical Inquirer's tone had changed. There was an increasing level of passion involved--it had become something of a crusade, to the point where anything that disagreed with scientific orthodoxy--even ideas that were simply unproven, such as cryptozoology claims about Bigfoot--was treated as equivalent to astrology. I was also disturbed by the dishonesty of some of the people involved--people like Isaac Asimov. Asimove was writing articles that made a point of using a lower case "g" for the title of the Judaeo-Christian God. This was not considered proper English at the time (it still isn't), but it was something that militant atheists did as a childish way of expressing disapproval of theism...At the same time, Asimov published a book that purported to be a dispassionate and neutral examination of Creationist claims--at least, in the first chapter or so, which is as far as I read before I realized that he wasn't telling his readers his true feelings. Now, if you want to be a militant atheist who insists on a non-standard use of "god," fine. It's not even petty, it's just silly. But to be writing a book where you claim to be a neutral and dispassionate observer of the evolution vs. Creation argument at the same time? That's dishonest. It reminds me of those Creationists who told courts that their "young Earth" theories were not religiously based--and then sent me a fundraising letter that insisted that their campaign was part of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I don't have much patience for dishonesty. (And sad to say, there's gobs of it in the academic community, and not all of it by leftists.)

Now that's interesting. Clayton Cramer objects to Sternberg's supervisor asking him about his beliefs, and speculating about whether Sternberg might have been acting from a hidden agenda. However, he feels perfectly comfortable judging Isaac Asimov's objectivity based on his beliefs expressed elsewhere.

"g" whizzes

Intelligence can be a hot topic. It burst into roaring flames with the publication of The Bell Curve, and the flames haven't died down yet.

As long as I'm looking at the Wilson Quarterly, here's an article from Summer, 2004.
In the world of the American public school, few subjects are more controversial than intelligence. If there’s a tension in American society between the ideal of equality and the pursuit of meritocracy, that tension escalates into the equivalent of a migraine headache in the schools. ... And the very notion that school performance is strongly influenced by general intelligence—a quality partly inborn—seems to contradict this deeply held ideal of equality.

...continued in full post...

One way of dealing with the problem of inequality is to deny it. There are any number of people who assert that IQ, or "g", the general intelligence factor, either has no real meaning, or doesn't exist. Stephen Jay Gould dismissed it as an artifact of the mathematics used to arrive at the factor.

For something that doesn't exist, "g" is surprisingly robust.

The g factor was discovered by the first mental testers, who found that people who scored well on one type of mental test tended to score well on all of them. Regardless of their contents (words, numbers, pictures, shapes), how they are administered (individually or in groups; orally, in writing, or pantomimed), or what they’re intended to measure (vocabulary, mathematical reasoning, spatial ability), all mental tests measure mostly the same thing. This common factor, g, can be distilled from scores on any broad set of cognitive tests, and it takes the same form among individuals of every age, race, sex, and nation yet studied. In other words, the g factor exists independently of schooling, paper-and-pencil tests, and culture.

As for multiple intelligences,

However much we might wish that there were many distinct forms of mental ability, a century of research has found none as widely useful as g. Neither of the two major multiple intelligence theorists, Howard Gardner and Yale University’s Robert Stern­­berg, disputes the existence of g, only its preeminence among mental abilities. There are, to be sure, many different human mental abilities, but they are neither independent of one another nor equally useful.

Just to add insult to injury for the egalitarians, a substantial fraction of intelligence is hereditary.

Genes probably work their influence by shaping various metabolic, electrical, and structural features of the brain. For example, the brains of people with higher IQs tend to have a relatively lower rate of energy use (as measured by glucose metabolism) while solving problems, and quicker and more complex brain waves in response to simple perceptual stimuli such as lights and sounds. Researchers have long debated whether people with higher IQs have bigger brains, and the latest findings, based on studies with new brain-scan technology, show that they do. Distinctions in g, or general intelligence, are evidently as much a fact of nature as differences in height, blood pressure, and the like.

(And Jerry Pournelle has a report on his web page discussing the possibility that some genetic diseases are the result of similar effects – effects that tend to "overclock" the brain.)

So how does IQ, "g", or intelligence matter? As David Friedman points out in his book, Hidden Order: The economics of everyday life, the alternative to correct theory is not a blank slate, it's an incorrect theory. A correct theory is one that gives you accurate predictions from the vacts you feed in, and an incorrect theory is one that gives you inaccurate predictions.

If you are using a flawed theory of intelligence to design your curriculum, you will get bad results from that curriculum.

...“adaptive instruction” is regularly attacked as discriminatory because it means treating students differently. Its critics would rather give all students “access” to the “high-status” curricula and self-directed, “constructivist” learning activities that benefit bright students. But that path is far more likely to harm than to help these students, robbing them of the motivation to learn, depriving them of their full potential, and hampering their prospects in a world that increasingly requires (and rewards) well-educated people. Depriving faster learners of curricula that allow them to make the most of their abilities is likewise an injustice to them and to the society that stands to benefit from their eventual contributions. By denying the difficulties in accommodating intellectual difference, multiple intelligence theories may do little more than squander scarce learning time and significant opportunities for improvements in the quality of American schooling.

Greatly exaggerated

I happened to find The Wilson Quarterlyat the magazine stand last week. It features an interesting blend of perspectives, and I may blog rather heavily from it in the next month or so.

The item linked above, originally published as "Are We Still Evolving? by Gabrielle Walker, in Prospect (July 2004), is retitled here, "Is evolution dead?"

I've seen this idea in print before, and I expect I'll see it again, and again.

As humans continue to advance, their evolution may be grinding to a halt. Natural selection works by picking and choosing among millions of random mutations that occur in each generation, favoring those individuals who bear traits conducive to survival and punishing those with less desirable traits. But we have molded our environments to such an extent that natural selection may have nothing left to work with, observes Walker, a British science writer. All that’s necessary to get everyone’s genes on a level playing field is for people to be able to grow up and reproduce, claims geneticist Steve Jones, of University College, London. And modern technical and cultural developments have assured precisely that. In Britain, a baby who reaches six months of age today has a nearly 100 percent chance of surviving to adulthood. Only 150 years ago, about half the babies born in London died before they reached puberty.

This is an example of what I'll call the "body count" model of evolution. It's the notion that unless creatures die, unless there's blood to redden Nature's tooth and claw, selection isn't happening, and therefore neither is evolution.

The problem with that notion is, selection still happens even when all the members of a population live beyond their reproductive years.

In a population, for example, where there is competition for mates, there will be a tremendous amount of what is called "sexual selection". A member of the population with a greater amount of a charactistic that attracts mates will be more likely to reproduce. A member with a deficit in that area will be less likely to reproduce, and therefore less likely to pass its genetic endowment to the next generation, even if that genetic endowment confers every long life and excellent health.

In human society, even if we could erase all causes of death before age 50, there would still be large differences in attractiveness. Some people will be more physically attractive than others, others will have greater material success than others, and still others will be more willing to do the work of raising kids than others.

Walker mentions cultural effects and acknowledges that they exert selective pressure even if everyone survives to reproductive age.

One reason is that—as experts on both sides of the fence agree—cultural changes can affect evolution. A past example of that is the “grandmother effect,” which explains why women don’t die off soon after their child-bearing years, as other female primates do. The speculation is that, as Earth’s climate turned colder and drier and plants grew tougher and more deeply rooted 1.8 million years ago, having Grandma around to manage the increasingly hard work of foraging while Mom tended to the brood became essential to survival.

(Again, that body-count paradigm.)

Culture enters in to the equation in a bigger way than that. Certainly, some cultural mores promote survival and prosperity better than others do. Indeed, it can be argued that many of the fundamental similarities between moral codes of different cultures exist because those cultures that had different sets of moral codes did not survive.

However, we can see some discussions about cultural selection going on today, if we look. One of the comments arising from the endless discussion over the difference between "red states" and "blue states", and especially "red vs. blue" counties, is that family sizes are larger in red areas than in blue ones. There may be any number of reasons for this difference.

Areas that are largely rural may still have large people living and working on farms so that children become additional hands to do work sooner than they do in urban areas.

Family size seems to be inversely proportional to wealth. Certainly worldwide, the higher per-capita income is, the less inclined people are to have large numbers of children. For one thing, there's more assurance that any given child will live long enough to support the parents.

But there is an idea that may account for a lot of the difference in the US: People in the red states may have larger families because they're more likely to believe in a doctrine of "be fruitful and multiply". People in the blue states, on the other hand, are more likely to believe in a doctrine of "the world is overpopulated, don't add to it."

In any event, the total fertility rate in the blue areas of the US is below replacement levels. Barring immigration, their populations will decline. (I don't know if red areas are increasing, or just declining more slowly.) This differential reproduction yields no body count – those who are selected against are simply never produced in the first place. Yet it is, and remains, evolution in action.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Shakespeare was wrong!

Betsy Newmark points out an article about a group, Citizens United, that is buying billboard space to thank the Hollywood Left for helping to re-elect Bush.

These billboards will be up in Hollywood during February, including one near the Kodak Theater, home of the Academy Awards.

Shakespeare wrote, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." Presumably, not as sharp as having one who thanks you for achieving the opposite of what you had intended.

Don't blame the subject, blame the teachers

In an ongoing argument over evolution, Clayton Craymer says he objects to the arrogance of the teachers. They should not be teaching the subject in the manner of someone who has all the patents on Truth. In return, I keep telling him his problem is not with the subject of evolution, but with the poor quality of education, especially in the lower grades. Complain about that, not the science which the teachers are so inept at teaching.

Now, from Betsy's Page, an example of inept teaching:
Meghan Cox Gurdon's second-grade son has to do a poster project for Black History MOnth. Anyone with children in the public schools has gone through this as February rolls around. She is so exactly right to talk about how such projects force kids to notice racial differences that they really hadn't been aware of before. I well remember my daughters' elementary school and the posters they'd put up every year. It always amused me how lame the group of people were that they were supposed to learn to admire. Almost all of them were sports and entertainment figures. I just don't see why we have to be teaching children in school to admire Michael Jordan. Jackie Robinson was a historical figure, but Jordan? Give me a break. If I were black, I would have found those posters so demeaning and patronizing. <snip> ...another of my many pet peeves about how schools teach history. History is taught so poorly in the elementary and middle school levels that kids have no idea really of what these black heroes did to deserve admiration since they don't have any understanding of the historical context. They end up with some confused idea that lumps Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan into one big group of people that all did poster-worthy things at some time, probably within weeks of each other since they're all up on the wall at the same time. <snip> ...When I was in sixth grade we had to do reports on Russia, our unit that month. All the kids did little reports and brought in food and colored pictures. I came in and told the story of Rasputin and the repeated efforts his enemies made to kill him. The class was spellbound, if I do say so myself. I think even then, I knew how fun it would be to be a history teacher.

Exactly. The word "history" comes from the same Latin root as the word "story". History is the story of what happened. There's no excuse for history lessons to be boring. In fact, history taps in to a primal urge in children and adults.

In a panel discussion on encouraging literacy, Bjo Trimble told of a time she was in a book store, and she was reading aloud from one of the books to one of her kids. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed other kids had settled down to listen, as had many of the adults – even those who didn't have kids in tow.

Part of what makes us social creatures, able to get along with each other, to cooperate on projects, and to form workable societies, is that urge that cries out, "Tell me a story".

Anyone who presumes to teach children, and who can't figure out how to tell them a story, really ought to consider other work.

Asteroid news

Jay Manifold reports on a new asteroid, 2001 DA42.

No, it's not going to hit us, or even come close. So DON'T PANIC. I'm posting about it because it's just been named for Douglas Adams.

But keep your towel handy anyway.

The right stuff

The 20' By 20' Room has a post called "Saving Orphaned RPGs".

The US Copyright Office is looking into the need for a system to clear the rights for orphaned copyrighted works with no visible rightsholder. They want public comment, since they're trying to figure out what the pros and cons are of various potential courses of action with regard to orphaned works. As Rodger points out, there's a ton of this kind of thing in the RPG field. If you're a creator or a fan of an orphaned RPG -- not one that the rightsholders won't publish, but one for which the rightsholders are unknown -- it might be worth your while to submit a comment according to the process outlined.

This is not just for RPGs, but for any kind of work with no clear ownership. Any authors reading this may well have some comments on how copyright law might be modified – or not.

Friday, January 28, 2005

His very words convict him

As long as Islamic terrorists have been striking at the western world, and the US in particular, many in this country have asked, "What have we done to make them so angry with us?" At Belmont Club, Wretcherd states the answer that I've offered any number of times: We exist.

Abu Musab Zarqawi categorically belongs to the second school, which holds that America is to be destroyed for what it is. In an audiotape released on January 23, 2005, Zarqawi puts forth a view which he has repeated many times in the past, but which, like Mein Kampf, some are determined never to hear. In the audio Zarqawi cursed democracy because it promoted such un-Islamic behavior as freedom of religion, rule of the people, freedom of expression, separation of religion and state, forming political parties and majority rule. Freedom of speech was particularly evil because it allowed "even cursing God. This means that there is nothing sacred in democracy."

While these are not the only reasons for extremist Islamic hatred, clearly if the fundamental characteristics of American society are sufficient to mark it for destruction, then nothing will deflect the hatred of the enemy.

We are dangerous because we exist. We are dangerous because we refuse to live under the control of Zarqawi's vision of religious observance.

A couple of years ago, Dennis Prager brought up the news account of an honour killing. A man killed his daughter for outrageous behavior: She had dared to tell him, "It's my life, and I have the right to live it the way I want to." This pernicious idea, that a person is the owner of his, or most especially her, own life is part and parcel of Western thought. That alone is enough to see every Westerner marked for death, or conversion at swordpoint.

The September 11, 2001 attack targeted several buildings. The Pentagon, as the seat of our military, is a logical target. It appears Flight 93 may have been intended to destroy either the White House or the Capitol, seriously damaging our government. But why the World Trade Center?

To be sure, the towers were huge buildings. I heard someplace that each one had it's own ZIP code. It may even have been true. Taking down something like that is a major feat, and bound to make an impression.

But the World Trade Center is a symbol. It's a symbol of capitalism, and of world trade.

Since Adam Smith, the central thesis of capitalism and free trade is that trade occurs only when all parties in the trade decide they're better off after the trade than before. People trade with each other because it's good for them, and not because of a moral imperative, or because a higher authority has told them they must.

Capitalism is based in the idea that every person owns his or her own life, and the fruits of how that life is spent.

Capitalism is about freedom of choice. A believer can choose to do business only with other believers, or he may choose to trade with an infidel. If he so chooses, it is because he has decided he's better off making that trade. And the infidel's lot is also improved, by definition, otherwise the deal would not be made.

Freedom to choose means freedom to choose wrongly.

Freedom to choose wrongly means the possibility of convincing someone else your "wrong" choice is the right one after all.

Creative destruction

Job loss to outsourcing and technological innovation was quite a subject last year. Walter Williams looks at the effects of job loss, and what happens when we try to prevent it.

Let's look at a bit of job-loss history. Anthony B. Bradley, a research fellow at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., has written an article on the subject, "Productivity and the ice man: Understanding outsourcing." Citing the work of Forrester Research Inc., a technology research firm, Mr. Bradley says, "Of the 2.7 million jobs lost over the past three years, only 300,000 have resulted from outsourcing." Job losses and job gains have always been a part of our history. Let's look at some of the history of job loss described in Mr. Bradley's article. We might also ponder whether measures should have been taken to save these jobs.

One example, the mechanical refrigerator, did away with the ice man delivering ice every week. It also did away with ice gatherers, people who handled and stored ice all along the delivery chain, and jobs making the tools and equipment used to handle all this ice.

We could probably think of hundreds of jobs that either don't exist or exist in far fewer numbers than in the past — such as elevator operator, TV repairer and coal deliverer. "Creative destruction" is a process by which we find ways to produce goods and services more cheaply. That makes us all richer.

Skills and resources don't go away when people are laid off. They wind up (usually) in other jobs where they're more productive. It's stressful, and it's no fun to go through, but in the long run, we're all better off.

Hope that's a real tasty fish!!!

(Hat tip: Brown & Caldwell California Water News)

A Los Angeles grocery owner was fined nearly $230,000 for selling Asian snakehead fish, which can live for three days out of water, slither across land, and prey on native birds, fish and mammals. <snip> The predatory fish, which can grow to 3 feet long and weigh up to 12 pounds, were once called "something from a bad horror movie" by Interior Secretary Gale Norton. They've populated the Potomac River and other bodies of water on the East Coast.

I've read about these elsewhere. Their ability to live out of water for a short time and move across land means they can spread to bodies of water not connected to wherever they may be introduced. And while slithering across the landscape, they're not averse to munching on any critters they come across.

Asians seem quite willing to "bend the rules" in order to put their favorite dishes on the table. At a going-away lunch for a fellow employee, we all went to a dim sum place with a "native guide". (A co-worker who speaks Chinese, and can order "the good stuff".) One of the dishes was one which, in medieval Europe, was called "garbage". Basically miscellaneous organ meats, including the "lights" or lungs. I tried some, and decided it's an acquired taste.

One which I won't be acquiring any time soon.

I think that's a plug...

A friend of mine circulated an e-mail listing some of her favorite stops in the Web. In response, I just saw the following:

You are evil! In passing I opened your message for a quick look this post midnight/morning, and have just lost over an HOUR in Karl's blog...

There's the Web, and then there are webs.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

How things have changed...

John Ray wonders when American universities started going downhill.


There is no question that leftist views have infiltrated our colleges and universities. But what most people may not know, is just how far left the pendulum has swung. Ben Shapiro is a recent graduate from UCLA. He is also the youngest syndicated columnist in the United States. What he says has crept into American universities is astonishing. Sharpiro said, "You go on campus, you pick up the campus newspaper and see editorials comparing Ariel Sharon to Adolf Eichmann. And then you walk outside class and you see the Muslim Student Association handing out pamphlets actively fundraising for Hamas and Hezbollah, and you figure, boy, I better do something about this." <snip> So how did our colleges and universities become havens for anti-American thought and rhetoric? Some say the Leftist agenda that is running rampant today got its roots in the 1960s. The radicals of the Sixties Revolution are the same men and women at the head of our educational institutions and are in charge of shaping the minds of our young people today.

When I was still in school, one of my teachers sounded off on the "radical college kids" who insisted on being taught only those things that were "relevant". And they wanted to be the ones to decide what was "relevant".

Sometime in the sixties, it seems the inmates took over the asylum.

Stripped of the connotations these words have to mental health, that statement is exactly correct. The original meaning of "asylum" is "shelter". People who come to the US "seeking asylum" are not trying to get themselves institutionalized. They want shelter.

A school is a shelter, within which learning and practice occur.

When I was in college, some of my fellow students took umbrage at the use of the phrase, "When you get into the real world," or any variant that implied college was not the real world. (Frankly, I did too, more because my friends were doing it, than because I'd thought about it.)

But college is not the real world. It's a place where you can learn things, and try out new skills and new ideas. With very few exceptions, you are shielded from the consequences of failure. After all, you can always retake the course next year.

And the term that is properly applied to those living inside a shelter is "inmates".

Some time in the sixties, it somehow became unfashionable for anyone to claim to have more knowledge, experience, or wisdom than anyone else. In particular, it was unfashionable for professors to claim to know better than students do. The fashionable egalitarian belief took hold among college professors and administrators, and as beliefs so often do, this belief caused people to behave in certain ways. In particular, when the inmates decided to take over the asylum, the staff stood aside and let them.

So far, the hard sciences have resisted, mainly because hard sciences are hard, with sharp edges. If you try to do something against the laws of physics or chemistry, the system has a way of biting you in the rear end. Hot glass has a way of reminding you that "hot glass" is more than just an arbitrary social construct.

Same sex marriage

This is a comment from a friend of mine, in response to Dennis Prager's article, What does 'Judeo-Christian' mean?

She started out by declaring herself appalled at his claim that Europeans believe in equality rather than liberty, "and the inference that the British, Germans, French, Spanish, Italians, and Netherlanders can be lumped in with the Hungarians, Poles, Rumanians, Albanians, Yugoslavians, and Russians." She wound up with the following:

If it is that important for children to be raised by both a man and a woman, then it would be logical for the government ot punish widows and widowers who had children but didn't remarry (perhaps by taking their children away to be raised by a pair of foster parents, perhaps merely by denying them deductions for their children on their income tax), just as it would be logical to punish divorced or single parents who didn't (re)marry and even married parents who didn't live together, or who had their children raised by nannies, au pairs, or boarding schools. In fact, it would logically follow that boarding schools should be required to have male and female couples as quasi-parents for children. I've read of some European Jewish communities that had the custom of requiring people who'd been married a certain amount of time (twenty years?) but had no children to get divorced and try again, and this would seem logical if the chief reason for marriage is to have children who are raised by a man and a woman. Has Prager denounced non-homosexual but single-sex parenting shows like "Family Affair" (with Mr. French) and "My Three Sons" as setting a bad example? (I don't watch sitcoms much any more, but I'm sure there are current ones that would also qualify for such denunciations.)

Quite a laundry list of comments on same-sex marriage. I've reproduced it in full here, typing it in from paper. Now, on to the fisk...

If it is that important for children to be raised by both a man and a woman, then it would be logical for the government to punish widows and widowers who had children but didn't remarry...

Hmmm... I think we need to be precise here. Many people argue that if marriage is about children, then any married couple that remains childless should have their marriage revoked, and infertile people should not be allowed to marry.

I'd say the point of marriage is to create the basic structure for a child-rearing unit – the "container" for children, if you will. Our society has decided the family structure it sanctions is a mother, a father, and an arbitrary number of children. By allowing only one person of each sex in any marriage, this guarantees the "container" into which children will be introduced meets that standard. You don't throw out a cup because it's empty at the moment.

Widows and widowers rarely become widows or widowers by choice. To punish them for an event beyond their control would do serious violence to our sense of fair play. Furthermore, the effect of a parent who dies is not the same as that of a parent who leaves the marriage. A dead parent will "live on" as a role model in the memory of the survivors. It's not the same as having the original parent around, but few things are.

Indeed, studies show that step parents are, among other things, more likely to abuse their step children, so forcing widowed parents to re-marry may be the cure-worse-than-the-disease. All social policies involve trade-offs, and this is one of them. would be logical to punish divorced or single parents who didn't (re)marry and even married parents who didn't live together, or who had their children raised by nannies, au pairs, or boarding schools. In fact, it would logically follow that boarding schools should be required to have male and female couples as quasi-parents for children.

A lot of what I wrote about widows and widowers applies above.

One observation I have about divorce is that it's more important that both parents stay involved in the child's life than that they live under the same roof. It's one thing to divorce a spouse, but the expectation should be that you don't divorce the children. Indeed, a lot of changes in this area would be very useful. Among others, the default custody option should be a 50/50 split. And since the court retains jurisdiction, a parent who wants to relocate to a distant area should have to convince the judge that either it's necessary, or the relocating parent can continue to parent from that distance.

Nannies and au pairs should be able to meet high standards of ethics and professionalism. Many do. Some don't.

One of the drawbacks with nannies is that children are liable to bond to them. When they eventually leave, that's virtually the same as a divorce.

As for boarding schools, if the child is going to be spending significant amounts of time in one, there probably should be a set of "house parents". Legally, the school is in loco parentis to the child, but a whole school can't make the decisions about a child's care. Maybe boarding schools should be required, or at least strongly encouraged, to have "virtual parents" on staff. It's not one of the things we've thought about very hard. In the past, children's needs haven't been considered that important. (And nowadays, there seems to be an egalitarian trend which minimizes any differences between children and adults.)

Has Prager denounced non-homosexual but single-sex parenting shows like "Family Affair" (with Mr. French) and "My Three Sons" as setting a bad example? (I don't watch sitcoms much any more, but I'm sure there are current ones that would also qualify for such denunciations.)

This strikes me as a red herring. Now, I don't know the reason why the opposite sex parent isn't around, but given the time period I'm willing to bet large sums of money that the family started out with a mother and a father, and one of the parents died.

Dennis Prager has criticized shows where people set out to build a family without both a mother and a father from the start. "Murphy Brown", for example, where a single woman was planning to raise a child as a single mother. (The handyman may or may not have been a surrogate father.) I know he doesn't watch TV, so he may not be up on the latest sitcoms. If, however, anyone considers his point invalid because he hasn't denounced the latest sitcom that sets a bad example, do we get to consider that person's point invalid because he hasn't spoken up to defend the latest sitcom?

Ultimately, I'll pose the question Dennis poses when the debate over same-sex parenting, adoption by single parents or parents of one sex, or other alternatives to a mother and a father as parents.

Do you believe men and women bring different attributes to the table, or do you believe that men and women are (except for plumbing) interchangeable? If you believe there are no differences in what a father brings to the family and what a mother brings, it doesn't matter what sex the parents are, as long as there's the right number. If you believe the sexes are different, then it's very difficult, at best, for one to substitute for the other.

Self indulgence

Thomas Sowell does not think very highly of "demonstrators" who are sounding off after the November elections.

What are these "demonstrations" demonstrating – other than adolescent self-indulgence and contempt for the rights of other people to go about their lives without finding their streets clogged with hooligans and the air filled with obscenities? <snip> We are seeing the ugly face of intolerance under the idealistic pretense of protest. We need to recognize it for what it is, even if the media refuse to do so. Above all, we need to see it as a warning of where our society is headed. Whether at home or abroad, if political conflicts are reduced to contests between the wimps and the barbarians, the barbarians are going to win.

This hour, Dennis Prager is discussing the fellow who parked his car on the railroad tracks, causing one train to jump the track and collide head-on with an oncoming train.

The fellow had intended to commit suicide by locomotive, and changed his mind at the last minute. When he couldn't get the car moving again, he bailed out and watched the train wreck from a distance.

Now, granted, this person was depressed – possibly clinically so – but the method he chose screamed of self-indulgence and narcissism. Not only did he place himself in the path of an oncoming train, he parked his car, guaranteed to create a mess in the best of circumstances. By golly, he was going to show us all!

Now, for some reason, he's on a suicide watch.

Global warming

Roy Spencer, of the University of Alabama, looks at the "hockey-stick" global warming curve featured in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

According to an article in Geophysical Research Letters,

McIntyre & McKitrick found that the Mann et al. methodology included a data pre-processing step, one which was not reported in the original study, that essentially guaranteed that a hockey stick curve would result from their analysis. They demonstrated this by applying the same methodology to many synthetic temperature records that were constructed with random noise. In almost every case, a hockey stick curve resulted. The claim of unprecedented warmth and the hockey stick shape appear to hinge on the treatment of one species of tree, the bristlecone pine, from North America in the 1400's. Further statistical tests showed that this critical signal in the early 15th century lacked statistical significance. This suggests that the results of Mann et al. were simply a statistical fluke, which greatly exaggerated a characteristic of the bristlecone pines, which may or may not be related to global temperatures.

Science is considered a self-correcting enterprise, because any published results are subject to checking, rechecking, double-checking, cross-checking, and occasionally, check-mate. (Well, the last isn't used in scientific discourse, but...) The give-and-take in science is a filter that eventually screens out bad results and passes along good ones.

Sometimes, though, a particular result has a lot of political charge, and filtering it out creates a storm.

The new article, like so much published science, simply points out errors in previously published science, which is the way science should work. So why should there be so much fuss this time? Because the original Mann et al. article has had huge repercussions. The hockey stick, along with the "warmest in 1,000 years" argument, has become a central theme of debates over the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, in governments around the world. The question begging to be answered is: Why did the IPCC so quickly and uncritically accept the Mann et al hockey stick analysis when it first appeared? I cannot help but conclude that it's because they wanted to believe it.

At the very least, the name of the panel biased it toward accepting a "hockey-stick" result. After all, when a panel is called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it's already primed to find – well, change.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Whose ignorance?

Clayton Cramer is pointing out some ignorance.

Instapundit Demonstrating His Ignorance Again Instapundit seems to think that the spherical nature and existence of other planets is proven to about the same level as evolution.

It is.

One involves inference from an incomplete fossil record; the other involves measurement. Now, you may want to argue that evolution is adequately proven, but to claim that the evidence is comparable to that for the sphericity of planets is simply ignorance.

The existence of evolution is at least as well established as the existence of George Washington. No one questions the existence of George Washington, even though historical records are incomplete.

People have been executed on evidence flimsier than the evidence that supports evolution. No one qustions the guilt of, for example, Timothy McVeigh, even though the examination of the evidence is necessarily incomplete.

As for the measurement and existence of the other planets, all you have is inferential evidence. You've never traveled to any of the other planets and laid hands on one. You've never measured one with your own instruments. You rely on people who build instruments and make measurements from a great distance, and accept that the signals from these instruments mean what the experts say they do.

The fact is, there is no evidence that will convince you. That's why you keep backtracking from "evolutionary theory may well be the best way to explain phenomena no one doubts but I just wish they weren't so arrogant about it" to "evolution is unproven."

Harry Potter dead, age 19

Fans of the wizard, Harry Potter, have been beating a path to a grave in a cemetery close to Tel Aviv. The grave is that of a corporal who died 66 years ago.

Well, as Mr. Dursley observes in the opening of the very first book, neither Harry nor Potter are uncommon names.

And at least the corporal wasn't buried in Potter's Field.

Do farmers waste water?

(ht: Brown and Caldwell California Water News)

Do farmers waste water? Vance Kennedy, a retired hydrologist offers his opinion in the Modesto Bee.

There is a common fallacy that flood irrigation by farmers wastes water by using more than is needed for crop growth. As a result, proposals have been made that farmers pay more for their water to discourage that "wasteful" practice.

Why it's not wasteful:

The main source of water to replenish the water table has been through flood irrigation as farmers use more on their land than is required for plant growth. The land filters the water as it sinks into the aquifer. Later, this water is pumped out by the cities and others.

Well, OK, maybe so. I'm assuming Mr. Kennedy has checked to make sure the water seeping in from flood irrigation does wind up in the same aquifer that cities and others pump from.

Aquifers are funny things. A number of aquifers are trapped between aquacludes – layers of rock that are impervious to the flow of water. Think of a layer of sand between two sheets of glass.

If there are no aquacludes between the ground water and the ground surface, you'll have a situation like the classic drawing of the water table. Water seeps down from the surface until it reaches the water table, and you can dig a well to the water table and pull up water for use. Water from flood irrigation would add to this reservoir.

If there is an aquaclude in the way, the water that seeps down will be blocked before it reaches the aquifer. Water in that aquifer gets in at a "recharge zone", usually in nearby hills or mountains, where the aquaclude disappears for whatever reason and there is no more obstruction between the porous rock and the ground surface.

In some areas, you can have layers of porous and non-porous rock, with the result that you'll have several aquifers under a given point. Each aquifer will be fed from a different recharge zone, have different water quality, and probably flow in at least slightly different directions. In such a case, it's even possible to install a casing around a well shaft to block off one or more aquifers in the middle of the well, while allowing water from the rest of the aquifers to flow in.

So, it's not obvious to me that farmers who flood irrigate are necessarily recharging the ground water supply used by anyone else. If a hydrologist says it does, I'll take him at his word, and assume he's done the necessary research to back up that opinion.

Perchlorate in the water

Arguments continue over perchlorate standards continue. The National Academy of Sciences has come out with a standard that splits the difference between the EPA proposal and industry proposals.

Perchlorate is not a carcinogen, nor something that accumulates in the body.

Perchlorate disrupts thyroid function by competitively inhibiting iodine uptake in a dose-dependent fashion. Because thyroid hormones play a major role in brain development, EPA and the NAS committee focused on making sure that fetuses and infants would be protected. The committee based its dose recommendation on the 2002 Greer study, in which healthy men and women were given perchlorate to determine at what dose iodine inhibition occurs (Environ. Health Perspect. 2002, 110, 927–937). That study found no significant inhibition at 7 µg/kg-day, a conclusion supported by four additional studies. The committee applied an uncertainty factor of 10 to protect the fetuses of pregnant women who might have hypothyroidism or iodine deficiency and hence came up with the 0.7µg/kg-day recommendation.

"Competitive inhibition" is what happens when a chemical looks enough like some other chemical that it gets in the way of reactions that use that chemical. In this case, perchlorate looks enough like iodine that the thyroid gland will grab hold of it and try to stick it into thyroxin and other molecules. It doesn't work, so it blocks the production of thyroid hormones until it falls out on its own and is replaced with real iodine.

As described, the NAS standard seems to be perfectly adequate.

As usual, these things involve trade-offs. You can lower perchlorate levels below the standard, but it costs more to do so. The resources you spend lowering perchlorate levels are resources that won't be available for other things that might bring much greater benefit.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Intelligent design, continued

The reason I'm harping on the meaning of "randomness" is because of people who don't know better (or worse – who do) saying things like this:

Read these books, then tell me you are still a committed believer that the Universe is full of nothing but matter and that random chance with no designer is responsible.

If by "random chance" you mean that nothing is predictable, I doubt you'll find any scientists who believes that. Anyone who argues against that proposition is arguing against a straw-man. Ultimately, this sort of argument is a waste of time for both the arguer and anyone listening.

One of the features about Darwin's theory that is widely misunderstood is that it combines two ideas. The first idea is the notion of random variation. This is not terribly novel – we see it all the time. Children look a lot like their parents, but not exactly like them, and no two are alike. (Even identical twins have differences.)

The other principle in Darwin's theory is that of natural selection.

As a pigeon fancier and breeder, Darwin had lots of experience with artificial selection. He'd seen the incredible variety of pigeons breeders were able to get in a relative handful of generations, starting with the basic pigeon stock. It occurred to him that nature could select for features too.

Any feature that any organism possessed that had any impact on how well it survived and reproduced could be subject to selection. For example, an animal with longer fur might be better suited to a cold climate, and would be more likely to survive long enough to reproduce. Of course, if this animal happened to be born in a very warm climate, it would overheat very easily, and thus be less likely to survive and reproduce.

Any number of features have plausible, and in many cases easily measured, effects on both survival and reproduction. Many other features turn out to have effects that become apparent only after some study. The point is, any and all variations in any and all features that have any impact on survival are subject to natural selection. The winners of the natural selection game win the same thing the winners in artificial selection do – the right to breed and pass along their genes to the next generation.

Here's the punch line: the feedstock for evolution – random variation – is random. But natural selection is selection – the very opposite of random.

Living organisms undergo small changes during reproduction, and each change causes the organism to explore some nearby piece of probability space. If it fails to survive and reproduce in that piece of probability space, it is removed from the system by natural selection and the exploration stops at that point. Some future explorer may wander through, but it will meet the same fate at the hands of natural selection.

Other organisms may find themselves in parts of probability space that are friendlier. There, they may thrive and reproduce, and their offspring will exhibit slight variations from theirparents. Some of these variations will reverse the latest change – they'll be "explorations" back along the path followed by the last generation. Others will be explorations in other directions.

If this sound slow, it is. But when you have trillions of living things, each making their own little explorations every generation, you can cover a lot of ground. the SETI at home project uses thousands of home computers to grind through Saganloads of data, carrying out computations that would bankrupt even a very well funded project. But with thousands of computers donating "extra" processing time, a whole lot of calculation gets done in a very short time. Right now, they're managing some 64.75 trillion floating-point operations per second. A two-gigahertz processor manages two billion computing cycles every second, and a floating point operation will take at least a few cycles. The distributed computing power behind SETI at home amounts to probably a couple hundred thousand desktop computers worth of calculating power.

Now consider a planet full of miniature computers, each exploring a small corner of the possibilities available to living things, and you see a lot of things can happen in a million years.

Yes, there are some fascinating, beautiful, and intricate designs in nature. But they were designed by natural forces, and driven by one of the most powerful forces in the universe – the urge to reproduce.

Intelligent design, continued

One of the reasons Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory manages to keep a foothold in society is that a lot of people really don't understand the terms used in science.

One term that causes all kinds of problems is "random". Colloquially, "random" is taken to mean completely unpredictable and chaotic. That's not quite what it means in science, and certainly not in mathematics.

Take a fair coin and flip it. Assuming the coin is, in fact fair (not weighted, not tampered with in any way) and given a fair flip (so as not to influence how it lands), it has a 50/50 chance of landing "heads" or "tails".

It will land on whichever side it lands at random. That means, there will be a 50% chance of the coin landing "heads" and a 50% of the coin landing "tails" at each and every toss. And that will be all you can say about how the coin will land until it actually lands.

Despite the coin toss being random, you can still make predictions about it. For example, you can bet any sum of money you care to name, the coin will never come up anything but "heads" or "tails".

Likewise, if you roll a six-sided die, the numbers 1 through 6 will each come up, at random, an average of once in six times. You'll never be able to tell which of the numbers is going to come up on the next roll, because it's always one chance in six at each roll. But you can predict, with 100% certainty, you'll never roll a 7 or higher. Ever.

When mathematicians use the word "random", they mean that a variable will show up in some piece of a probability space at a frequency proportional to the size of that piece. If your probability space is six boxes, numbered from 1 to 6, corresponding to the sides of a six-sided die, each box represents one-sixth of the probability space.

Each time you throw the die, you are generating a new value for your variable. It will land in the probability space – one of those six boxes – 100% of the time. Each box has a 16-2/3 % chance of being the box the variable appears in. In this case, the boxes in the probability space are equal in size. In many other cases – such as a weighted die, the boxes become unequal in size.

Darwin postulated that all living things would differ in small ways from their parents, and that these differences would be in random directions. If you measured height, some would be a little taller, others would be a little shorter, and some would be just about the same height as their parents. Likewise, if you measured any other feature, you'd find similar small changes between parent and offspring. If you measured the differences between parent and offspring, you'd very likely find these differences clustered around the parental value, in a bell-shaped curve.

There's no real magic to the bell curve (or Gaussian curve). It's simply the result of a mathematical operation called the convolution integral, applied to a large number of variables. And most of the time, the exact shape of the curve doesn't matter anyway.

In Darwin's day, no one knew much about how characteristics were inherited. Well, no one except one Gregor Mendel, and he wound up publishing in an obscure botanical journal, and Darwin never read the paper. The point is, Darwin didn't know what sort of constraints there were on how living things could change from generation to generation. He had no idea what the probability space looked like.

In the past 150 years, the science of genetics has advanced quite a bit, and we have a much better idea of what the probability space looks like. For example, a point mutation at any DNA base can produce one of four results. There are four nucleotide "letters" in the DNA "alphabet", and if you change one of them at random, you're rolling a four-sided die. There's a 75% chance that a random mutation of one "letter" will change it to one of the other three "letters" – 25% for each "letter" – and a 25% chance that it will be "changed" to the same "letter".

The nature of the change then depends on where in the DNA that "letter" appears. Some locations are not terribly critical, and you can make any change you like, with no effect on the organism at all. Others, such as a particular critical section of the DNA that codes for red blood cells, can make all the difference in the world.

The point, though, is that these changes remain random.

They are constrained by the chemistry of the system, so that a purine nucleotide base will never be replaced with a Buick, but within those constraints, there is no preferred direction of change. Changing adenine at any location in the DNA out for thymine is just as probable as changing it out for guanine. There is no force pushing the change in any particular direction.

That's what is meant by "random".

Drug sniffing dogs and other invasions of privacy

Orin Kerr comments on one of the latest Supreme Court decisions. The Court upheld the use of drug-sniffing dogs to find illegal drugs.

One aspect of the law which strikes me as troublesome has to do with the definition of what the Fourth Amendment protects.

The mercifully short opinion for the Court by Justice Stevens relied heavily on Stevens' own 1984 opinion, United States v. Jacobsen, which had held that the police do not conduct a "search" when they perform narcotics tests because narcotics are illegal contraband; interfering with a person's drugs does not violate their Fourth Amendment rights because Fourth Amendment rights in illegal narcotics cannot be constitutionally "reasonable." While this may seem a bit odd at first, it actually has substantial roots in existing law: as I argued in a recent article, a "reasonable expectation of privacy" is not the same as the expectation of privacy of a reasonable person, but rather is a term of art keyed heavily to property law. Because a person cannot have a property right in narcotics, the thinking goes (whether rightly or wrongly), interfering with his drugs does not infringe a property right and therefore does not constitute a search.

I wonder. How far could this reasoning be extended? Could a court rule that a person doesn't have a property right in stolen property, and so a warrantless search of property for stolen property does not constitute a search? Why or why not?

I've had a bit of a debate with Eugene Volokh about one issue that appears in this decision:

One interesting aspect of today's opinion is that Justice Stevens had to distinguish the Court's 2001 thermal imaging case, Kyllo v. United States, in which Stevens had dissented. Kyllo held (more or less) that it is a search for the police to point an infrared thermal imaging device at the exterior wall of a private home. To reconcile the holding of Place with Kyllo, Stevens reasoned that the key was the nature of the information that surveillance method yielded. The thermal imaging device was used to obtain intimate details in the home, whereas the drug-sniffing dog only indicated the presence or non-presence of illegal narcotics. ... In particular, dogs can sniff narcotics from the exterior of a car because the bags holding the narcotics are not perfectly sealed; some of the drugs leak out into the open, and the dogs can smell that. In the language of Stevens' Kyllo dissent, this was "off the wall" surveillance, not "through the wall" surveillance. But Stevens had no room to make this argument after Kyllo, so he had to focus on the nature of the information obtained rather than the way the search was conducted.

In the debate, the subject was radiation monitors which might be used to find nuclear weapons hidden somewhere in a city. The question was, could you use radiation detectors to locate a cache of fissile material in someone's home?

(Eugene referred to "Geiger counters", but these, and indeed, any gas-filled detector, are not the best instruments to use to find fissile material.)

Eugene spent a great deal of energy on the issue of how a non-directional radiation detector could be used to obtain information about what's going on inside a private dwelling. In the case of a person using a radiation monitor, he could stand on the street outside an address and measure levels of ambient radiation. Such a monitor is usually not directional, though with some effort it could be made directional. (Moving it from one side of the car to the other would give you some spatial discrimination, for example.) Absent any built-in or improvised directional resolution, the investigator would have to move the instrument from place to place and observe how ambient levels changed. At best, he'd be able to show that radiation levels rose as you got closer to a particular address. With this information, you could obtain a search warrant. You are not building an image of the distribution of radiation sources inside the building. Or, if you want to build a plot of radiation levels and call that an "image", it is one with resolution that is coarser than the size of the building involved.

A thermal imaging device, on the other hand, builds an image using infrared radiation which penetrates the wall of a building. It is a device which is capable of directly recording very precise spatial information in an area that is inside the boundary of private property. The image it can be used to create has a resolution that is finer – by a good margin – than the size of the building.

Maybe that's the ticket.

As long as the smallest object you can resolve with whatever imaging/detection technology you have is larger than the boundary of the private area you are searching near, it's OK to use that particular imaging/detection technology to obtain information about what's going on inside that area.

Revolutionary Evolution

A review of Hugh Hewitt's book, Blog.

What makes blogs revolutionary? Hewitt likens blogging to the Reformation.

How huge? Well, Hewitt compares weblogs to Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Isn't that a bit presumptuous? Is the Blogosphere really comparable to the Reformation? "Absolutely", Hewitt says (and other bloggers agree). "The Church lost control of the text, and when they did that, especially with its translation into German, individual people began making decisions for themselves. Today, Big Media has lost control of the information flow, and the consequences are immediate and all around us. And business, especially, is figuring this out."

Can we get boys to read?

Children and young adults aren't reading the way they used to, and males are reading less.

From 1992 to 2002, the gender gap in reading by young adults widened considerably. In overall book reading, young women slipped from 63 percent to 59 percent, while young men plummeted from 55 percent to 43 percent.


...the K-12 literature curriculum may in fact be contributing to the problem. ...there are strong differences between boys and girls in their literary preferences. ...boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy. Moreover, when given choices, boys do not choose stories that feature girls, while girls frequently select stories that appeal to boys.

Nowadays, the "progressive" belief is that any differences between boys and girls are purely cultural. Furthermore, any and all such differences must be eliminated in the name of equality. Indeed, I've talked with some people, mostly the product of our colleges and universities, who become quite upset at the notion that there might be any inherent differences between males and females. (Except for plumbing, of course – or as it's disparagingly called, "the shape of one's skin".)

Children of either sex must be forced to read the kinds of things the other sex prefers. They will learn to like it. And furthermore, what has disappeared has been just the sort of fiction that does appeal to boys.

the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. On the other hand, stories about adventurous and brave women abound. Publishers seem to be more interested in avoiding "masculine" perspectives or "stereotypes" than in getting boys to like what they are assigned to read.

Indeed, some topics are obvious candidates for banishment from school libraries. We can't be exposing impressional young minds to stories of military valor. Adventure, so often including either violence or the threat of violence, is another problem area. Those disappear right away. The campaign against "sexism" and "stereotypes" knocks out most of the rest.

At the middle school level, the kind of quality literature that might appeal to boys has been replaced by Young Adult Literature, that is, easy-to-read, short novels about teenagers and problems such as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, domestic violence, divorced parents and bullying. Older literary fare has also been replaced by something called "culturally relevant" literature -- texts that appeal to students' ethnic group identification on the assumption that sharing the leading character's ethnicity will motivate them to read.

How many boys want to read about the kind of stuff that's happening around them? I know I read to escape into another world. If I wanted to deal with real life, I wouldn't be reading.

There is no evidence whatsoever that either of these types of reading fare has turned boys into lifelong readers or learners. On the contrary, the evidence is accumulating that by the time they go on to high school, boys have lost their interest in reading about the fictional lives, thoughts and feelings of mature individuals in works written in high-quality prose, and they are no longer motivated by an exciting plot to persist in the struggle they will have with the vocabulary that goes with it. Last year the National Assessment Governing Board approved a special study of gender differences in reading as part of its research agenda over the next five years. The study will examine how differences in theme, the leading character's gender, and genre, among other factors, bear upon the relative reading performance of boys and girls. With its focus on the content of reading rather than process, this study will, one hopes, give us some ideas on what needs to be done to get boys reading again.

Oh, goody. A study.

I have a suggestion: Why not try what worked before? If you use the techniques that were in vogue when reading rates were higher, you may not do any better, but at least you shouldn't do any worse.

Trilobites wiped out by global warming?

The "great dying" about 250 million years ago had been blamed on an asteroid strike. Now, it looks like it was caused by something else – climate change.

Animals and plants both on land and in the sea were dying at the same time, and apparently from the same causes — too much heat and too little oxygen,” Ward said in a statement.

Probably those ancient reptiles joy-riding around in their SUVs.

Is it worth it?

(Hat tip: Brown & Caldwell California Water News.)

It seems more and more people are buying filters for the water they shower and bathe in.

If you're like many Americans, you either filter your drinking water or buy the bottled variety. Now, a growing number of people are using purified water to bathe in or brush their teeth, 10News reported. Dana Harrison and Joseph Perry told 10News that a water filter in their bathroom is improving the condition of their skin and body. "My skin's improved. It's not as dry," Harrison said.

Of course, not everyone's convinced.

Dermatologist Ranella Hirsch said when it comes to your skin, you don't need a filter to get rid of impurities in your water. "It is such a small number that the skin is able to deal with it and it simply doesn't cause the skin any harm," Hirsch said.

One question has to be, how much of this is due to the placebo effect?

If people are feeling better because they expect to, I suppose that's fine. The thing is, tap water is so tightly regulated there's not a whole lot of room for improvement with any reasonably-priced filter. You're probably better off spending the money on a gym membership or something.

These things are trade-offs. Money spent on a filter is not available for something else that might have a greater impact on your health. On the other hand, if you're buying status, it might be worth it to you.

Monday, January 24, 2005

(Dumb as a) Boxer Rocks!

I heard this over the radio, as the sound bite was replayed. Now, the Indepundit points to a transcript of the confirmation hearing, and I can point to exactly the text I referred to earlier.

SEN. BOXER: Well, you should read what we voted on when we voted to support the war, which I did not, but most of my colleagues did. It was WMD, period. That was the reason and the causation for that, you know, particular vote.

Either Senator Boxer has no clue about dependent clauses, or she's just explained why it is she didn't know about more than twenty other reasons for going to war, which were listed in that resolution.

To Barbara Boxer: Start reading the bills that come before you. Or, maybe you can hire an additional staff person to read them to you.

How to end the battle over evolution right now

(First entry for the day)

Thankfully, there is a way for all parents -- the phonics crowd, whole language enthusiasts, creationists, defenders of Darwinian dogmas, etc. -- to get their way: privatization. If governments were to let parents choose their children's schools, then fights over educational standards would disappear, becoming matters of consumer choice, not political power. If the state of Georgia decided tomorrow to disband its public schools, divide the funds that it currently spends on education equally among school-age children, and issue a voucher to every child, we would see a lot of positive things happen. Educational controversies would be resolved between parents and educators, not by court order, parents would no longer be set against each other in a struggle to determine what their children are taught. And schools could get on with the business of educating children.

I have some problems with this, but I think having a set of minimum standards all schools have to meet would fix those problems.

OK, maybe someone would start up a school that teaches creationism, or geocentrism, or a flat earth. Someone else may start up a school that teaches crystal healing, therapeutic touch, iridology, etc. The people who graduate from those schools will find they can't get admitted to serious science programs without serious remedial education.

If schools have to prove their students have at least a nodding familiarity with a standard set of ideas and facts, at least people won't be led too far into left field.

And frankly, the way some schools are working, it's hard to see how anyone could do much worse.

Plenty of double standards go to around

Steve, at Deinonychus antirrhopus, comments on objections to private schools.

If privately run schools had any history of achieving the goals of our public school system, advocating privatizing schools would make sense. But there is no privatley run school system on Earth, nor has there ever been, which approaches the success of the U.S. patchwork system of public education. There are a few systems in the world that perform better than our system in elementary and secondary levels, in certain subjects — each of them is government run, and each of them has a centralized, federal curriculum selection device.
Funny, that sounds very much like an ID argument. We have never seen a privately run system work, therefore they can never work. We have never seen a bacterial flagellum evolve therefore it can't evolve.


One thing I've noticed about large numbers of people on the right and the left is that both sides accept that order and structure can and do arise spontaneously, without the intervention of a designer required. And both sides will argue that complicated, intricate systems can't possibly arise on their own without the intervention of an intelligent designer.

The side that believes intelligent oversight is required in the economic realm is perfectly willing to accept that complexity in nature can arise without it, and the side that demands an intelligent designer in nature has no trouble with the notion of spontaneous order in a free market.

I'll leave the application of labels to the alert student.


Amy Ridenour recalls a meeting with Johnny Carson when she was young.

Some reports about Carson say he was painfully shy. I'm pretty sure he was. Back in the mid-70s my parents took our family to tour NBC. Our tour was walking though an indoor parking lot when our tourguide was briefly called away. As we waited, a car pulled up. It was Carson, and he had to get out and get by us to get into the studio. <snip> ...this was Johnny Carson; the master of talk! Who could be more comfortable filling just a few seconds with friendly chatter? Somebody else. The King of Late Night was too shy to speak.

One of the things I've noticed about shyness – and I've had a chance to observe my own at close range – is that it can be overcome. Nowadays, people are surprised when I tell them that I was, and at times still am, shy. I just cover it very well.

One thing I noticed was that after some training, and practice, I got to where I was not shy in certain situations. Over time, the range of situations has grown, but it's taken work.

Apparently, after having climbed over one obstacle and tackled shyness on the stage, Johnny Carson never felt up to climbing over the same obstacle for social situations.

"Everybody's doing it"

Live Science has an article on the pattern of sexual activity in a midwestern high school.

The work was based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a 1995 survey of students at an unidentified Midwestern high school. The students were mostly white, in the only public school in a mid-sized city more than an hour away from a metropolis. Of about 1,000 students at the school, 832 were interviewed and asked to identify their sexual and romantic partners over the previous 18 months. Just more than half reported having sexual intercourse, a rate comparable to the national average, the researchers say.

In other words, as close to a middle-class, mid-sized "white bread" school as they could get.

The accompanying illustration is interesting. In addition to showing various patterns of sexual relationships, I notice one feature is extremely rare.

Do you see it?

I'll wait.

First of all, I'll remark on how easily this study has lumped together sexual relationships and "romantic relationships". Are those that close to being one-and-the-same these days?

Secondly, I count 466 students in the diagram. I didn't count pairings, but I did look for specific types of pairing. I found six students who engaged in same-sex pairings (four male, two female) and only one male student had paired only with a student of the same sex. That student's partner had paired with one other student (a female), and the other two males had each paired with three other females. Of the two female students, one had paired with three other students, the other with two.

Based on this sample, it's hard to justify the claim that 10% of the population is homosexual, or that even as many as 1% are.

Of course, the usual questions about the accuracy of this sort of survey abound.

About the "nuclear option"

Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is holding in reserve the option of a rules change, that would eliminate the Senate's ability filibuster judicial nominations.

...the proposed change in Senate precedents that Democrats call the "nuclear option" to make it sound radical. If the Democrats filibuster again, Mr. Frist would ask for a ruling from the presiding officer that under Senate Rule XXII only a simple majority vote is required to end debate on judicial nominations. Assuming 51 Senators concur, the Senate would then proceed to an up-or-down floor vote on the nominee.

I forget where the subject came up, but I recall someone wondering whose idea it had been to call the rules change "the nuclear option". My suspicion at the time was that it had been coined by the Democrats, in order to make the Republicans sound as dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible as possible.

Now it appears I was right. But right or wrong, why in the world would I think such a thing about the Democrats?


Icons of evolution?

Arguments about evolution, intelligent design, and creationism have been buzzing around some of the blogs I follow.

For your consideration: a link to an article at the National Center for Science Education that addresses the issues raised by Jonathan Wells in his book, Icons of Evolution.

Religious tolerance

Orson Scott Card has some comments about religion and tolerance.

Murder in the name of God has struck in America, it seems. A Coptic Christian immigrant family from Egypt was tied up and slashed to death in their homes right after the father posted anti-Muslim statements on the nets. It may turn out that this crime had nothing to do with Muslims. Let's keep in mind, however, that it is well known that murder in the name of God is too often the first response to opposition in many Muslim nations.

We'll no doubt hear admonitions against "rushing to judgment", but you have to admit, the MO is distressingly familiar.

Islam is a one-way religion. You can freely convert to Islam from any other faith. But for a Muslim to convert to another religion is to run a grave risk of being murdered. In free countries like America, where Muslim citizens have absorbed the rules of religious freedom, murder is not as likely, of course. But as Muslim fundamentalism spreads throughout the world, more and more Muslims are being taught that opposition to Islam is a crime worthy of the death penalty – and not just for the perpetrator, but for his whole family as well.

It's interesting how many on the left are keenly aware that religious freedom has to include the freedom to not believe in a religion – as long as the religion that has to tolerate disbelief is Judeo-Christian.

What's shameful is that the people in America who should be standing up for freedom and tolerance – the American Left – instead gives all this hate speech a free ride.

How much tolerance do the intolerant deserve?

A four year plan?

Mark Steyn looks at the cover story of the Village Voice. "The Eve of Destruction: George W Bush's four-year plan to wreck the world."

Well, since the N-year plan was introduced by the Communist governments, and since none of them ever worked, I feel much better about the state of the world.

The Democrats have been demanding to know, from Condoleeza Rice, or from George Bush, or from anyone who fails to get out of shouting range fast enough, what our "exit strategy" is for Iraq. Steyn doesn't think too much of "exit strategies."

If you want an example of "exit strategy" thinking, look no further than the southern "border." A century ago, American policy in Mexico was all exit and no strategy. That week's president-for-life gets out of hand? Go in, whack him, exit and let the locals figure out who gets to be the new bad guy. If the new guy gets out of hand, go back, whack him and exit again. The result of that stunted policy is that three-quarters of Mexico's population now lives in California and Arizona — and, as fine upstanding members of the Undocumented-American community, they have no exit strategy at all. By contrast, the British went in to India without an "exit strategy," stayed for generations and midwifed the world's most populous democracy and a key U.S. ally in the years ahead. Which looks like the smarter approach now? "Most Indians say 'thumbs up' to second Bush term," reported the Christian Science Monitor this week, "and no, that doesn't mean something rude in Indian culture."

Our foreign policy needs to reflect this. We can't ignore the rest of the world any more.

But everywhere is also Mexico in the more figurative sense — if you have a few hundred bucks and an ATM card, you can come to America and blow it up. Everyone lives next door now. September 11, 2001, demonstrated the paradox of America — the isolationist superpower — was no longer tenable. That was what George W. Bush accomplished so superbly in his speech: the idealistic position — spreading liberty — is now also the realist one. If you don't spread it, in the end your own liberty will be jeopardized.

You know, it's interesting that I'm hearing people complain about that bit of Bush's speech. It's somehow counterproductive to claim that our liberty depends on what happens anywhere else, or to anyone else.

Yet I imagine the same folks who criticize this idea are perfectly happy saying that if we allow the rights of others to be abridged, our own rights are in jeopardy. In more colloquial terms, "what goes around comes around." Bush's policy is to encourage liberty go "go around".

Now who would object to that?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

DDT and other chemicals

John Ray cites Jerry Pournelle on the hypocrisy surrounding DDT.

Ray comments that:

Overuse of DDT was not a good idea and some Americans sprayed it everywhere. More was used in some farm counties than would be needed for one spraying a year in African residences – all of them in Africa in mosquito areas.

And indeed, DDT overuse causes problems. And so does overuse of just about any chemical there is.

We are finding antibiotic resistant strains all over the place, and a lot of the reason is the overuse of antibiotics. In America, doctors have been too willing to give antibiotics to make their patients feel like something is being done, even in cases where the doctor knows antibiotics are useless.

If we reacted the same way we do to DDT, penicillin would be banned.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Nowhere cat

Norm Weatherby at Quantum Thought posts a cartoon featuring Schroedinger's Cat (or maybe not). I suspect the caption on the cartoon has misspelled the word "bore", however.

Nevertheless, it reminded me of a filk song by Lee Gold:

He's a real nowhere cat, In a fully sealed-up hat, And his fate, it seems, is known, By nobody. We don't know if he can mew, Or if his nine lives are through, 'Cause observation is what makes reality....

There's more, but I won't violate copyright.

Too much.


Survey says...

(Still getting used to selecting tabs instead of alt-tabbing through windows.)

Norm Weatherby left a comment to this post, asking:

Please send me a link on the below poll as I am unable to find it despite exetensive googling on various word combinations.

Hmmm. Interestingly enough, I have just now Googled on the words [university cincinnati public opinion laboratory evolution], no punctuation at all, and the link pointed to by the title was the first selection. Maybe Norm's googling primed the system somehow. (I have a theory that google is constantly combing the web, and that it may use repeated requets on a variety of search terms as a signal that it needs to index more pages with those terms.)

Anyway, according to the survey,

those who have the academic training and expertise (PhDs) to teach the basic natural and physical sciences in Ohio's public and private universities regarded the concept of "intelligent design" as an unscientific notion.
Opinion Agree Disagree/not sure
ID is primarily a religious view 91% 9%
Not aware of any valid evidence or an alternate scientific theory that challenges evolution 91% 9%
ID is either "strongly" or "partly" supported by scientific evidence 7% 93%
there was no scientific evidence at all for the idea of ID 90% 7%/3%
ever used the ID concept in their research 97% 3%
Ohio high school students should be tested on their understanding of the basic principles of the theory of evolution in order to graduate 92% 8%
Students should also be tested on their knowledge of the concept of "intelligent design" in order to graduate 10% 90%
accepting the theory of evolution was "consistent with believing in God" 84% 9%/7%%

(A single number in the "No/Not sure" column means I found no separate listing for "not sure". I don't know if there was one, or not.)

Also, do you have a "contact" or "email" link on your post somewhere? I can't see it.Thanks.

I thought I did, but I don't see one on my blog. I thought I had one on my website, but I seem to have left it off. I'll add something to both locations. In the mean time, it's <karl_lembke at dslextreme dot com>.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Boxer, Rice, and WMD

Clayton Cramer notes that, contrary to what Barbara Boxer asserts, the resolution authorizing force in Iraq cites many more justifications than WMD.

I haven't tracked down the transcript yet, but one sound bite I've heard could easily be interpreted as Boxer saying she hadn't read the resolution. That would explain why she missed the other score or so of reasons for invading Iraq.

Dealing with "gifted" children

One of the challenges the educational institution faces is how to deal with kids who insist on departing from the average. One side of the problem is, how do you adhere to "no child left behind" without slowing the whole class down to the glacial pace of the slowest student. The other side: what about those who are "gifted"?

Gifted children present challenges of their own, such as:

  • It's tempting to "skip" a child a grade, throwing him into a social group above his level of maturity.
  • Enrichment programs, tailored to the child, cost money and resources.
  • It's often hard to tell the difference between a gifted child and one with ADD. (And indeed, there are some who assert that ADD, ADHD, and similar problems don't exist.)
  • Being labeled "gifted" can cause problems. A child who's told he's "gifted" may feel pressure to succeed at everything he does. This results in a sort of perfectionism which causes him to avoid trying anything unless he's sure he will succeed.

No cures here. No quick fixes, either. Some suggestions, and lots of food for thought.

Science gets a wedgie

Intelligent Design/Intelligent Origin Theory (IOD/IOT) has intelligently designed itself a toehold in Academia.

The Polanyi Center, established in 1999 at Baylor University, is described by its head, William Dembski, as "the first intelligent design think tank at a research university."

Snarky note: Not "research center", "think tank".

In the wake of snide editorials decrying the scientific and education establishment's overruling "the will of the people", it's a bit ironic to hear the same complaint directed against this think tank.

Baylor faculty members complained that Sloan behaved autocratically in establishing the center without soliciting their advice and consent.

In the wake of the controversy,

A review committee Sloan appointed to address faculty concerns reached a conciliatory but lukewarm solution: the center was to be renamed, reconstituted within Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning, and supervised by a faculty advisory committee. In a press release, however, Dembski publicly celebrated what he called the committee's "unqualified affirmation" of intelligent design...

So what's wrong with ID/IOT? Well, first of all, it's not science.

Its most conspicuous feature, however, is its scientific sterility. The Wedge's most notable attempts to provide a case for intelligent design appear in books for the general reader, such as Dembski's Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology and Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. The few university presses (such as Cambridge and Michigan State) that have published intelligent design books classify them as philosophy, rhetoric, or public affairs, not science. There are no peer-reviewed studies supporting intelligent design in the scientific research literature. The scientific community as a whole is unimpressed and unconvinced, and intelligent design's credentials as a scientific research program appear negligible. Indeed, Dembski himself recently conceded that "the scientific research part" of intelligent design is now "lagging behind" its success in influencing popular opinion.

Scientific sterility: ID/IOT is generating no papers, no scientific results. Nobody is using the principles of ID/IOT to discover new things about the universe.

General reader: ID/IOT makes it case in books aimed at the general (non-scientific) reader. Not only is this not how science is done, it's an extremely unreliable guide to sound science. Books and other treatments aimed at the general reader include Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision and other books, Erich von Danikan's Chariots of the Gods? and other books, "documentaries" about the moon landing hoax, any number of books on UFOs, psychic powers, demonic possession, alternative medicine, and so on. That popular opinion has been influenced by a book, TV show, or other treatment is not a guide to scientific accuracy.

But is ID/IOT religion? Not in itself. However, its proponents are pushing it because of motives that are based far more in religion than science.

In his introduction to the conference proceedings, published in 1998 as Mere Creation: Science, Faith, and Intelligent Design, Dembski describes the purpose of the conference as formulating "a theory of creation that puts Christians in the strongest possible position to defeat the common enemy of creation." <snip> Similarly, the "Wedge Document" states that the goals of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (as it then was) were to "defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies. To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

But is evolution scientific?

...researchers at the University of Cincinnati's Internet Public Opinion Laboratory conducted a poll of science professors at four-year public and private colleges in Ohio. Of the 460 respondents, 90 percent said that there was no scientific evidence at all for intelligent design; 93 percent said that they were unaware of "any scientifically valid evidence or an [alternative] scientific theory that challenges the fundamental principles of the theory of evolution"; and a nearly unanimous 97 percent said that they did not use intelligent design in their own research. Included among those surveyed were faculty at such fundamentalist schools as Cedarville University, which accepts a statement of faith according to which "by definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record." If the pollsters had excluded professors with such a dogmatic commitment to biblical inerrancy, the results would have been even closer to unanimity. Over thirty years ago, the great geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution," and his words continue to ring true today. Biologists, and scientists generally, know that evolutionary biology continues to thrive, despite constant claims by its ideological opponents that it is a "theory in crisis." Insofar as biologists are aware of intelligent design, they generally regard it as they do young-earth creationism: negligible at best, a nuisance at worst. But unlike young-earth creationism, intelligent design maintains a not inconsiderable base within academia, whose members seemingly exploit their academic standing to promote the concept as intellectually respectable while shirking the task of producing a scientifically compelling case for it. To be sure, academic supporters of intelligent design enjoy, and should enjoy, the same degree of academic freedom conferred on the professoriate in general. But academic freedom is no excuse for misleading students about the scientific legitimacy of a view overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific community. In short, the academic supporters of intelligent design are enjoying, in the familiar phrase, power without responsibility. It is a trend that their colleagues ought to be aware of, worry about, and help to resist.