blueollie

Secularism, rage of the zealots and missing the point.

Yes, I know; Bill Maher holds some woo-woo beliefs (vaccinations). But his point: if you are secular, be open so others know that you aren’t alone is well taken, as is the point of living by some book that was written in a very ignorant age.

Oh sure, some might be offended by this.
People get offended when their deeply held beliefs are challenged; ok, I am no exception. But I can change my mind.

Not everyone can though, as Paul Krugman explains:

A bit more on the curious back and forth between myself and Robert Samuelson. It started when I made the commonplace point that normally the Fed, not the White House, is responsible for managing booms and busts, and that the great disinflation of the 1980s was basically a story of a Fed-imposed recession, and had little if anything to do with Reagan’s supply-side tax cuts.

Samuelson declared this “maddeningly wrong”, and proceeded to say that my analysis of the economics of the 1980s was … basically right — but that Reagan deserved credit for letting Volcker be Volcker. I pointed out that this wasn’t really critiquing my point. […]

Yet Samuelson is angry about something; indeed declared himself “maddened” by a column whose economic analysis he doesn’t actually dispute. What’s going on here?

The answer, I think, is Reaganolatry. Specific policies aside, Reagan must be seen as the hero who saved America. And therefore he must be given credit for a disinflation carried out by a Fed chairman who was appointed by, and began his anti-inflation crusade under, Jimmy Carter. Anything perceived as detracting from the Reagan legend is infuriating, even if you can’t find anything wrong with the substance.

Yes, one faces fury when one doesn’t pay proper deference to a legend or when one examines something perceived as fact:

Damn you, how DARE you question our VICTIM STATUS!!!!

Now in science, there are disputes. One of the tug of wars is in the theory of evolution. Basically, the tug of war is between the adaptationists (those who believe that evolutionary change is primarily an adaptation that improves reproductive fitness) verses those who see a bit more randomness at play. That is, some results of evolution can be, well, accidental and serve no “enhancement of reproductive success” purpose.

To see a demonstration of how this debate plays out, read Larry Moran’s post about “How did a zebra get its stripes.” It is very possible that the stripes occurred by..well…accident. I know; some just grit their teeth when it is shown that sometimes things happen for no good/useful reason. That is, Pangloss was wrong. :-)

Back to social I think that Vox goes astray here. They put forth a story that says that their free speech/cartoon posts received no threats from Muslims but that their “Islamophobia” posts got threats from non-Muslims.

That misses the point, I think. Yes, there are isolated key board commando crackpots out there; no argument here. The difference is that there are no influential Christian clerics who are issuing the analogy of fatwas against people who write books, and there are no reasonably wealthy Christian countries that have governments who give lashes to those who insult religion.

I said “reasonably wealthy” because there are some third world backwaters where things like witch burnings still happen and where the Christians have a hand in it.

January 15, 2015 Posted by | civil liberties, economy, evolution, politics/social, religion, science, social/political | , , , , | Leave a comment

Evolution and complexity

First my workout: 5 mile run (varied the intensity every 4 minutes) 50:26. Then 3 mile walk (42:40); some on an incline. Frozen snow outside.

Evolution: this is a very interesting article. The gist: yes, natural selection acts to select for mutations that give some reproductive advantage. But there have to be possible advantageous mutations available to begin with, and that only works if things are sufficiently complex to begin with. And there have to be several possible advantageous mutations to being with.

I sure wish I had time to train to study this from a mathematical point of view. But I have enough to work on as it is..and that includes things that I am in better position to publish.

January 14, 2015 Posted by | evolution, running, science | , , , | Leave a comment

Circular illusions and camouflaged frogs

Can you spot the frogs? Clicking the link will take you Mathew Cobb’s post at Why Evolution is True (photo by Nash Turley)

camfrogs

I’m sure that you can, but this photo shows what evolutionary adaptation can do.

Also, WEIT provided a link to this little gem: these “rotating dots” are, individually, moving along a straight line path. Seriously…all of them are.

I am going to try to write some equations that describe this motion.

January 6, 2015 Posted by | evolution, frogs, mathematics, nature, science | , | Leave a comment

Limits of “Common Sense”…

Workout notes It was 23 F and sunny when I started a run (shuffle, really) and I had intended to go 10K. I ended up doing my double corn stalk course; I didn’t start my stop watch but estimate that I ran the 8.1 miles in roughly 1:31-1:32. It wasn’t much of an effort; very slow and steady.

Ferguson shooting
Yes, African Americans have a reason to worry about encounters with police. But the risk of being killed by police is low compared to other risks. It is just that mundane murders and accidents, while FAR, FAR more numerous, don’t make the news nearly as often.

In fact, people often struggle to understand how statistics affects their lives. For example, much of the time, early detection isn’t of much value for many types of cancers. Many cancers aren’t dangerous, others multiply so rapidly that early detection doesn’t help much; there is only a few types of cancers that early detection helps with. This shows up statistically.

Statistics can be brought to bear on “miracle stories” as well:

A bit more about science : evidently some science magazines are trying to increase sales by manufacturing a “crisis” in evolutionary theory that just isn’t there. Sure, there IS debate as to the mechanisms of evolution and research continues to be done. But that is really more “status quo”.

And no: just because evolution doesn’t make sense TO YOU doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, no matter what your religion says.

Speaking of religion Jerry Coyne points us to this humorous cartoon:

rabbitgodvsduckgod

November 25, 2014 Posted by | evolution, running, science, social/political, statistics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Animal Camouflage (part ???)

Can you spot the snow leopards? (via Matthew Cobb at Jerry Coyne’s website)

This isn’t impossible, but it isn’t easy either.

I remember seeing a cottontail rabbit yesterday; it was sitting on some leaves and you could look right at it and not see it. I wish that I had a high resolution camera at the time.

October 31, 2014 Posted by | evolution, nature | | Leave a comment

biology, dating and social norms of yesteryear

Video: this is 30 minutes long. Upshot: she gives a nice presentation of why some male/female social norms were the way that they were (saying: “men suck” is too simplistic) and notes that many want rights but don’t want obligations.

My counter is that many women that I know are extremely fair minded; they want equal rights for women but they agree that these indeed come with equal obligations. Not everyone is that way, of course, but any large movement will have its share of dummies and slackers.

I think that she is a good example of someone who can present a different point of view but do so in a logical, cohesive manner.

Science
Yes, the current post-doc system (at least in biology) can become abusive. The lab system trains more lab scientists than there is room for.

Good news: SCOTUS rejects an appeal for a teacher that was fired for pushing creationism in the class room. Academic freedom and First Amendment rights do not extend toward protecting incompetence.

Dating application There is a dating application that weeds out poor people (or, say, the non-wealthy). Though some are outraged, I am fine with that. People can select who they want to date. Not everyone is for everyone else.

October 7, 2014 Posted by | creationism, evolution, science, social/political | | Leave a comment

Some education/academia articles

Paul Krugman: reviews a book called Seven Bad Ideas by Jeff Madrick. The idea:

In “Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World,” Jeff Madrick — a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and a frequent writer on matters economic — argues that the professional failures since 2008 didn’t come out of the blue but were rooted in decades of intellectual malfeasance.

As a practicing and, I’d claim, mainstream economist myself, I’m tempted to quibble. How “mainstream,” really, are the bad ideas he attacks? How much of the problem is bad economic ideas per se as opposed to economists who have proved all too ready to drop their own models — in effect, reject their own ideas — when their models conflict with their political leanings? And was it the ideas of economists or the prejudices of politicians that led to so much bad policy? […]

Such quibbles aside, “Seven Bad Ideas” tells us an important and broadly accurate story about what went wrong. Economists presented as reality an idealized vision of free markets, dressed up in fancy math that gave it a false appearance of rigor. As a result, the world was unprepared when markets went bad. Economic ideas, declared John Maynard Keynes, are “dangerous for good or evil.” And in recent years, sad to say, evil has had the upper hand.

Speaking of ideas: are we becoming afraid to make our students uncomfortable? I know what I read in the media, but I am not sure as to how accurate it is.

Note: I am not saying that students should be taught “all points of view”; some ideas have been shown to be crackpot (e. g. creationism). They shouldn’t be taught as if they are viable ideas.

Now speaking of science and religion Biologist David Barash had an article in the New York Times about the talk he has with his classes at a public university:

And that’s where The Talk comes in. It’s irresponsible to teach biology without evolution, and yet many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science. Just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of my students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material.

Until recently, I had pretty much ignored such discomfort, assuming that it was their problem, not mine. Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy. But instead of students’ growing more comfortable with the tension between evolution and religion over time, the opposite seems to have happened. Thus, The Talk.

There are a few ways to talk about evolution and religion, I begin. [..]

I CONCLUDE The Talk by saying that, although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass my course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines. And while I respect their beliefs, the entire point of The Talk is to make clear that, at least for this biologist, it is no longer acceptable for science to be the one doing those routines, as Professor Gould and noma have insisted we do.

I recommend reading the entire article. I especially like Biology Professor Jerry Coyne’s critique of it:

As I mentioned two posts ago, David Barash, a biologist at the University of Washington who works on animal behavior and evolution, has a post in today’s New York Times, “God, Darwin, and my college biology class.” It’s basically an argument for the incompatibility of science and religion, and I like it a lot, not the least because I agree with him 100%.

But there’s one thing about his piece that bothers me: Barash’s article is about how he tells his animal behavior class that science and religion are incompatible. In other words, he’s making theological arguments at a public university. […]

But in fact, and this is my beef (a small one, like a filet mignon): Barash may not be accommodating science with religion, but he’s still discussing their relationship, and his view of their incompatibility—in a science class. I wouldn’t do that, especially in a public university. One could even make the argument that he’s skirting the First Amendment here, mixing government (a state university) and religion. After all, if Eric Hedin can’t tell his students in a Ball State University science class that biology and cosmology are compatible with belief in God, why is it okay to say that they’re incompatible with God?

I share Professor Coyne’s trepidation here.

September 30, 2014 Posted by | economics, education, evolution, religion, science | , | Leave a comment

Misconceptions: chimps, kids and assault weapons

This New York Times Sunday Review article states what was long well known: one is far more likely to get killed by small handguns than by assault rifles. Assault rifles make big news in the spectacular but relatively rare events. But: this does not mean that there is no such thing as assault weapons. This means that banning them won’t make much of a dent in gun death statistics.

Speaking of violence: It sure appears as if chimps are naturally violent toward one another. Some argue that “effect by human intervention” has not been controlled for, but seriously, this “noble savage” stuff is nonsense.

Spanking Data seems to indicate that “spare the rod, spoil the child” is nonsense.

September 18, 2014 Posted by | evolution, nature, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Some interesting science stuff: elephants, washers, exploding stars, sea mushrooms

The remnants of a relatively young star are still seen expanding. What is of special interest is that we are seeing some of the light directly and other parts of the light after it has been reflected off of dust…and due to the longer path, the reflected light from the same event is reaching us later than the direct light!

Bulletin of concerned scientists: wonder if the US should consider calling for a testing ban on “hypersonic” missiles (slower than the ICBMs but fast enough to react quickly). The article is worth reading if only to learn about the technology.

Job discrimination: an applicant changed his first name from Jose to Joe…and ended up getting call backs that he didn’t get earlier.

Life sciences After almost 30 years, scientists were able to place a type of sea mushroom (not quite a fungus, not quite a fish) into a place on the tree of life.

Elephants: we really shouldn’t hunt these creatures; they are too smart and can take pleasure in play:

Technology and vibrations: watch the consequences of an unbalanced load and subsequent vibrations:

September 4, 2014 Posted by | astronomy, evolution, racism, science, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Some of Richard Dawkins in public debate …

One of my man-crushes:

July 16, 2014 Posted by | evolution, religion, science | | Leave a comment

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