Avoiding Grading

A couple of quick thoughts prior to my getting started on grading my probability and statistics final exams:

Click here for a larger image. As usual, Julie Larson hits the nail on the head!

Race for the Cure
Peoria, IL has a long standing tradition of having something called The Race For the Cure. It is a fundraiser to raise funds to fight breast cancer. Now-a-days there are three events: a 5K run for the men, a 5K “run” for the women, and then a much, much larger 5K “run/walk/however you please” for the family.

In the past it was “women only”. This is the kind of event that many people do once a year (that is, it is the one footrace a year that they enter); hence you have 17 minute per mile walkers lining up at the front of the pack (ahead of, say, 9 mintue per mile runners), people starting off way too fast only to come to a screeching halt 5 minutes into it, participants smoking prior to the start of the race, etc.

So, while I love the cause, I usually try to stay away from the event itself, aside from working on the set-up and tear down crew; the exceptional times being when I had a final exam (today) or was gone doing another race (Ice Age 50K, Lake Geneva Marathon).

So, I had to chuckle when I read this “ba-humbug” post from The Peoria Pundit (made by a guest blogger):

The race for the cure is all nice and good, but why does it have to involve blocking traffic on University? Wouldn’t it be better for all those tubbies to march around the Mall or some such place that’s off the street? I live in the neighborhood and am quite fed-up with this every year!

(emphasis mine)

I suppose that I should have been outraged by this comment, but I ended up laughing nevertheless. Shame on me!

Final comment:

I am not sure as to what this is about, but I approve.


May 12, 2007 Posted by | Peoria/local, politics/social, running, ultra, walking | 1 Comment

Final Exam Saturday

I am getting ready to go to give a final exam. So here are a few topics:

Lying is legal during a political campaign!

Here’s a fact that may surprise you: Candidates have a legal right to lie to voters just about as much as they want.

That comes as a shock to many. After all, consumers have been protected for decades from false ads for commercial products. Shouldn’t there be “truth-in-advertising” laws to protect voters, too?

Turns out, that’s a tougher question than you might imagine. […]

Check out the whole article…it is interesting.

Politics: another attempt to smear Edwards.

Wolverinethad debunks yet another attempt to smear Edwards. Note: I am an Obama supporter.

Here’s the lede:

The hedge fund that employed John Edwards markedly expanded its subprime lending business while he worked there, becoming a major player in the high-risk mortgage sector Edwards has pilloried in his presidential campaign.

Edwards said yesterday that he was unaware of the push by the firm, Fortress Investment Group, into subprime lending and that he wishes he had asked more questions before taking the job. The former senator from North Carolina said he had asked Fortress officials whether it was involved in predatory lending practices before taking the job in 2005 and was assured it was not.

In the first sentence, Solomon is already trying to make Edwards look like a hypocrite. He has no shame, does he?

Oh, but wait, there’s more.

Fortress and its partners bought Green Tree in 2003. According to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in April, its holding in Green Tree was as high as $492.4 million at the end of 2005 — 4 percent of Fortress’s holdings at the time.

Last July, Fortress expanded its stake in the industry by buying Texas-based Centex Home Equity, a top-25 subprime lender, for an estimated $540 million. In December, Centex Home Equity, now called Nationstar Mortgage, bought the loan-origination division of Champion Mortgage, bringing another subprime lender into the Fortress portfolio.

In March, Newcastle Investment Corp., a real estate investment trust managed by Fortress, announced that it, too, was moving into the subprime market with the purchase of a $1.7 billion loan portfolio. Also in March, Fortress bought about $4 billion in subprime loans from Fremont General Corp.

Now, there are five transactions listed here by Mr. Solomon. Only one of the five took place while Edwards was with the firm. In 2003, he was running for president. By December of last year, he was running again. Basically, Solomon is attempting to tie Edwards to actions he did not participate in and tar him as a liar when it comes to his advocacy for the poor, advocacy that no other major party candidate has done since Bobby Kennedy in 1968. Solomon’s guise here is that a company that Edwards worked for made transactions in a field that Edwards has declared himself against, even though the vast majority of those transactions did not take place during Edwards’ tenure there, and three of the five took place after he left to run for president. It’s pathetic that this was even allowed in the WaPo. […]

Emphasis mine.

Richard Dawkins: an interview surprises the interviewer. I recommend going to the article as it has a nice drawing.

I was expecting an angry man, impatient of my own unsophisticated faith. I was so nervous I tried first a bipartite approach, and wanted to take along a colleague who is an Oxford graduate. He resisted this suggestion. So I sort of smuggled in Paul, who read law at Oxford, as back-up in case I got stuck. But in the end I needn’t have worried. When I finally went along last week to interview him I found an urbane, charming and ophisticated professor manifesting just a little of the anger against religion for which he is known, and I have to confess that much of that anger is justified.

What he is is passionate for what he describes as “the truth”. Because he has aimed his writing, most notably in The God Delusion, at the fundamentalists he so detests, it carries something of the tone of the very preaching he decries. But with the rare and hugely appreciated luxury of being able to talk to him at
depth, I had the privileged opportunity of being able to explore precisely what he does and does not believe. And what emerged was a man whose mind is not at all closed to the possibility of the transcendent. I would say – and indeed I did say this to him – that if some of our more intelligent and liberal Church of England and Episcopal bishops were quizzed in detail about what they really believed, and if they gave truthful replies, they might not be that far from the doctrine Dawkins is propagating. Indeed, I might go so far as to say that here we have a man who is in danger of founding a new religion
of his own, a religion we might want to call Dawkinism.

We spoke for 90 minutes. It was one of the most absorbing conversations I’ve ever had. The day before we met, I had received by email a promotion from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for a new DVD series for children, Growing up in the Universe. It looked superb, and I will buy a set for my young son. I told Dawkins how similar it was to receiving text from a religious company, the accompanying blurb almost like a creed. “You’re very close to being right,” he admits. How could I be more right? “To be spot-on would be to say that this had nothing to do with the sort of religion which believes in a divine creator who forgives sins, answers prayers and listens to your inner-most thoughts, cares about your sex life does all the things that the Christian God is supposed to.” It would be a “mysterious beyond-present comprehension, physics of the future.”

He has no name for it. “It’s hard to have a word for it because part of it lies in the future. For example it would be hard to ask a medieval peasant for a word that sums up Boeing 747s and computers and televisions.” He is indeed convinced that future physicists will discover something “at least as wonderful as any god you could ever imagine.” So why not call it God? “I don’t think it’s helpful to call it God.” Ok,
but what would “it” be like? “I think it’ll be something wonderful and amazing and something difficult to understand. I think that all theological conceptions will be seen as parochial and petty by comparison to it.”

He also talked about the nature of the universe, confessing that he can even see how “design” by some gigantic intelligence might come into it. “But that gigantic intelligence itself would need an explanation. It’s not enough to call it God, it would need some sort of explanation such as evolution. Maybe it evolved in another universe and created some computer simulation which we are all a part of. These are all science fiction suggestions but I am trying to overcome the limitations of the 21st century mind.” He adds: “Whatever it is it’s going to be grander and bigger and more beautiful and more wonderful and it’s going to put theology to shame.”

Evolution: More evidence for the “Out of Africa Theory

The fascinating tale of human evolution gets another important story added to it, this time with a new DNA research done on Australian Aborigines and Melanesians from New Guinea, which further confirms the hypothesis that all humans originated from a group of people from Africa around 50,000 years ago. This is known as “Out of Africa” or the single origin theory.

Up till now the fossils and tools found in Australia have cast doubt on the Out of Africa hypothesis, since they differ significantly to South Asia. This implies that the early settlers in Australia might have interbred with the local homo erectus population that was already there (which migrated out of African some two to one million years ago), “or because there was a subsequent, secondary migration from Africa”.

But the research done using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosomes DNA shows that:

there was no evidence of a genetic inheritance from Homo erectus, indicating that the settlers did not mix and that these people therefore share the same direct ancestry as the other Eurasian peoples.

The researchers suggest that the variations in fossil and tool records can be explained with the thousands of years of isolation that the aboriginal population faced, since the land bridge joining Australia and Asia was submerged into water some 8,000 years ago.

This, in combination with an earlier report, further confirms that the Out of Africa hypothesis is becoming the firm theory of how humans have evolved. We can mainly thanks to the advancement in the science of genetics. […]

Be sure to surf to the article to see a cool map which shows how early humans migrated.

Source for the article that the blogger of On Evolution used is here.

I have really enjoyed the On Evolution blog!

Paying the price for being open Be ware of being too open about being atheistic in small town communities.

Hmmm, I wonder if these yokles got sick that they’d use the medicine that largely atheistic (or at least non-personal-god believing scientists came up with.

What about the empirical results? In a recent post, I speculated on the possibility of a high level of atheism among clerics but said that unfortunately it would be hard to get honest poll results on this question. But scientists are not so hesitant to answer this question and such surveys have been done and the results are extremely interesting.

These surveys were done early in the twentieth century (in 1914 and 1933) by James H. Leuba and repeated at the end of the century by Edward J. Larson
 and Larry Witham who published their findings under the title Leading scientists still reject God in the journal Nature (Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 (1998)).

What the earlier Leuba studies found in his survey of 1,000 scientists in general, selected randomly from the standard reference work, American Men of Science (AMS) was that in 1914, 58% of scientists expressed “doubt or disbelief” in god, with the number rising to 67% in 1933.

Larson and Witham’s repeat of this study in 1996 using the current edition of the same source (now called American Men and Women of Science) to select their sample and found the number to be 60.7%. So these numbers have remained fairly steady.

In fact, the 1996 survey found that about 40% of scientists believe in a personal God as defined by the statement “a God in intellectual and affirmative communication with man … to whom one may pray in expectation of receiving an answer.” This is a sizeable number (close to the figures in the 1914 and 1933 surveys), indicating that, at least empirically, there seems to be little problem with being a scientist and also believing in the existence of even an activist, interventionist god who directly answers individual prayers.

But the really interesting changes have come from the beliefs of a more elite group of scientists. One criticism about the studies quoted so far was that perhaps the selecting of the sample of scientists was not discriminating enough. Larson and Witham quote Oxford University scientist Peter Atkins as criticizing their 1996 study on these grounds saying: “You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs. But I don’t think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge.” (my emphasis)

But how does one define a “real” scientist as opposed to, presumably, a run-of-the-mill scientist. It turns out that Leuba had also surveyed the beliefs of “greater” scientists, using as his sample those scientists designated as such by the editors of the AMS. He found the rate of “disbelief or doubt in the existence of God” to be higher that that of the general scientist population, being 70% in 1914 and as much as 85% in 1934. So it seems as if the more eminent one becomes, the less one believes.

In repeating this particular aspect of the study in 1998, Larson and Witham were hampered by the fact that the editors of American Men and Women of Science stopped designating people as “greater scientists.” So Larson and Witham used as their sample source the member list of the highly prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS). What they found was that the number among this group who expressed “disbelief or doubt in the existence of God” was a whopping 93%.

Here are the detailed results:
Belief in personal God 1914 1933 1998
Personal belief 27.7 15 7.0
Personal disbelief 52.7 68 72.2
Doubt or agnosticism 20.9 17 20.8
Belief in immortality 1914 1933 1998
Personal belief 35.2 18 7.9
Personal disbelief 25.4 53 76.7
Doubt or agnosticism 43.7 29 23.3

Some interesting questions arise from these results. Belief in a personal god has dropped by half from 1914 to 1933 and again by half by 1998. The latter drop may have as a contributing factor the fact that the NAS members are probably a more elite group than the “greater scientists” designated by the editors of AMS. But that means that religious beliefs among elite scientists are either decreasing with time and/or with increasing eminence.

May 12, 2007 Posted by | edwards, politics/social, religion, running | Leave a comment