News

Loading...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

You Don't Have to Be a Prostitute

We report... and then we decide:

"Author Jodi Dixon, a final-year medical student at the University of Birmingham, U.K., describes a 2010 study of 315 students at London University in which 1 in 10 reported knowing a fellow student who had turned to prostitution out of financial necessity."

This is supposed to indicate a big problem,  showing how common prostitution is amongst medical students. But wait a sec... the study says 1 in 10 students know someone who has turned to prostitution. And this is from a study at a single university, which surveyed only 315 students. So 1 in 10 of them would be 32 students.

At this point, it might occur to one that 32 students is not an unduly large circle of friends for a single person to have. So it's quite possible that these 32 students all know the exact same person who is working the streets. And that possibility looms even more distinctly when one considers how, in a small community like a medical school, word that "Bill who is doing podiatry" is selling himself, will tend to spread a bit.

Then, if you rephrase the study a little, it becomes, "Out of 315 medical students at the University of London, we might have turned up one or two prostitutes."

But it's a little hard to raise a fuss about the "problem" when it is put that way, isn't it?

Listen, you med students, just remember:

Traumerei very pretty, traumer blossoms oh so sweet

(Hey, I just like having fun with the great names my readers have. How about that dude who is anti-hotel, for some reason?)

In any case, in comments elsewhere, traumerei writes: "Don't think asking for Punnett squares for memes will go over too well with users of the term."

Yes, very good point. Look at the following:
This sort of construct is a very, very early achievement of genetic science. It turned out, of course, that most genes do not work in such a straightforward fashion, and genetic science has come a long way since Mendel. But even at this early stage, we see genuine scientific results, yielding nice, mathematical, testable predictions about what will happen in certain situations.

Where, gentle reader, has "memetic science" achieved anything remotely like this? Where can we find memetics' punnett squares, that tell us what will happen when a green idea and a yellow idea "mate"?

And here is a real kicker: it turns out that there is no easily identifiable, little biochemical mechanism that can be mapped to "the gene":

"The definition of a gene is still changing. The first cases of RNA-based inheritance have been discovered in mammals. Evidence is also accumulating that the control regions of a gene do not necessarily have to be close to the coding sequence on the linear molecule or even on the same chromosome. Spilianakis and colleagues discovered that the promoter region of the interferon-gamma gene on chromosome 10 and the regulatory regions of the T(H)2 cytokine locus on chromosome 11 come into close proximity in the nucleus possibly to be jointly regulated.

"The concept that genes are clearly delimited is also being eroded. There is evidence for fused proteins stemming from two adjacent genes that can produce two separate protein products. While it is not clear whether these fusion proteins are functional, the phenomenon is more frequent than previously thought. Even more ground-breaking than the discovery of fused genes is the observation that some proteins can be composed of exons from far away regions and even different chromosomes."

In other words, "gene" is a functional concept, very useful to biologists, but without any precise physical meaning in terms of molecular biology. (As Kitcher noted in "1953 and all that.") So when someone like Dawkins (who, after all, before he became a preacher, was an ethologist, and not a molecular biologist) declares that it is "selfish genes" driving biological activity, he is saying that life is really guided by a concept invented by and convenient for biologists!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Most Convenient Philosophical Discovery Ever

Think about it: At the very time the English gentry were grabbing the British peasantry's land through enclosures, and the Native Americans land through thrashing the crap out of them, along comes John Locke, and works out, purely philosophically -- nothing to do with his class interests involved at all, mind you! -- that the Indians and the peasants had never really owned that land in the first place! That they had been using it for hundreds or thousands of years meant nothing: they hadn't mixed their labour with it, you see, like the gentry did. (Or really, the labour of some hired hand, because you know the gentry sure as shinola weren't out there fencing those pastures themselves.)

It just happened to work out so nicely that it was actually OK to take these people's land.

It's Linsane!

My friend Juliard Velard has written the Knicks' official Jeremey Lin song!

Famous Italian People

The third most popular Google search term for finding this blog this week was "famous Italian people."

Huh? Yes, this blog has mentioned Italy occasionally lately, but I don't recall doing any survey of famous Italian people. Why is Google sending searchers with that phrase in mind to here?

The fifth most popular search yielding us hits is: "gene-callahan.blogspot.com"
A hint: If you've got that in hand already, you don't need Google!

Yeats on Berkeley

"Descartes, Locke, and Newton, took away the world... Berkeley restored the world. Berkeley has brought us back to the world that only exist because it shines and sounds."

********

"I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
      And live alone in the bee-loud glade.   
 
"And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;   
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
      And evening full of the linnet's wings.   
 
"I will arise and go now, for always night and day   
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
      I hear it in the deep heart's core."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Fuss About Referencing Styles?

I've started using Zotero, and am getting the hang of it and digging it. One interesting thing: Zotero has converted me to one of its referencing styles, because I couldn't find the one I really liked and had been using in one of its lists. (I'm not saying it's not there: I just got tired of looking!)

In any case, looking back, I'm amazed at how much fuss my professors made about what reference format to use on undergraduate papers. (And let me tell you, that took some looking back to see that far into the past!) As someone who publishes regularly now, I only once have had a journal tell me to re-submit a paper because my references were not in their preferred format. My response? I just submitted it somewhere else. I mean, really... I don't mind reformatting my references for you if you accept the paper, but you claim you need the references in your publication format in order to have it refereed? The referees are going to say, "Whoa, I can't decide whether to recommend accepting this paper: the references are in APA format!" Yeah, you find someone else to be your dooforhim seeboy.

In any case, what I tell my students is simply, "Make sure your style is consistent throughout, and that all the information I need to find your source is included." Am I shortchanging them by not being stricter about this? Discuss.

The Taxman Is Literally Robbing You!

And other such hyperbolic claims are taken down by Matt Zwolinski.

How All Nature Shows Ought to Be Narrated

WARNING: If you're playing this at work, you might want to keep the volume low.

(Hat tip to Kevin Vallier.)

What Am I to Call Me?

People like labels for political positions. Whenever talk of politics comes up, they'd usually like to know what to call you. Well, sometimes I'm inclined to say, "I'm a conservative." The problem with that is, it makes people think I am somehow aligned with nutjobs like Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh. Do I have time to explain to my interlocutors that Gingrich, Limbaugh et al. are not conservatives?
There’s a lot to admire about conservatives. By conservatives, I mean people who believe that when you cast aside the inherited wisdom of past generations in a bid to make society dramatically better, you usually make it worse. The problem with many in today’s Republican Party isn’t that they share this skepticism about change. It’s that they apply it selectively. When conservative principles restrain their country, their religion, their class, today’s conservative leaders cast them aside.

Trintarian Meditations

The Father <--> the concept of a work of art
The Son <--> the working out of the concept
The Holy Spirit <--> the power of the work itself

Hat tip to the late, great Dorothy Sayers.

This brings to mind the criticism of some of my previous trinatarian meditations: one commentator wrote that I was generating novel, wild interpretations of the trinity that would shock most Christians. Maybe so, but, as I recall, the interpretation that induced that critique was drawn straight from St. Bonaventure, who lived 700 years ago and was, after all, canonized by the Catholic Church.

This sort of criticism is of a piece, I think, with that claiming that "ordinary Christians" don't share my "high philosophical" view of Christian doctrines. Well, so what? Would it be a good critique of modern evolutionary theory to note that many of those who profess to believe in it believe silly things, for instance, that every human activity has a gene that codes for it, so that we can talk about a "God gene," or that they think that DNA is analogous to a program that the rest of the cell simply executes?

No, any knowledgeable NeoDarwinist would surely complain that one ought to direct one's critique at the best, most sophisticated version of the theory extant, and not at the bastardized versions held by most netizens. Any good physicist would surely object to my critiquing quantum theory by analyzing the works of Deepak Chopra. "No," they would say, "you have to look at Heisenberg and Dirac and Feyneman and so forth."

Well, yes, that is exactly right.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ned Block on The Bell Curve

If you have any interest in the topic of race and IQ and you haven't read this, you really ought to do so. Block shows the very basic error made by Murray and Herrnstein, in carrying over the heritability of IQ within a race to heritability across races. (As Block clearly demonstrates, there is no necessary connection between the two numbers whatsoever.) Along the way, he also shows that "These issues are pathetically misunderstood by Charles Murray.

Somebody Needs a Logic Lesson

One Andy Horowitz wants to show how ill-educated is Rick Santorum, so he "disproves" Santorum's contention that most early presidents home-schooled their children with the following:
Santorum may find it pleasant to imagine George and Martha Washington sitting by the hearth with her son Jacky Custis, helping him read from a primer, but in fact, Washington imported a Scottish tutor named Walter Magowan to live in Mount Vernon and provide the classical education his stepson needed to enroll at King’s College (today’s Columbia University).

John Quincy Adams sent his son Charles Francis to public school at Boston Latin.

Andrew Jackson’s adopted son Andrew Jr. went to the Davidson Academy in Nashville.

Martin Van Buren’s son Abraham attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and Zachary Taylor’s son Richard attended private schools in Kentucky and Massachusetts. (Both later became Confederate generals.)

Ulysses S. Grant sent his sons to the Emerson preparatory school in Washington, D.C.
Horowitz presents no evidence whatsoever that any or all of these presidents didn't home school their children. (And notice that for Washington, he provides evidence that he did do so!) What he presents is evidence that these presidents' kids spent at least some time in institutional schooling -- and in some cases, at the university level! So what? My kids have been both home schooled and been in public and private schools, at different times. What Horowitz has done is like "proving" someone has never played chess by showing us a photo of them playing checkers!

By the way, I have no idea if Santorum's claim is accurate: I just know that Horowitz's method of disproving it is nonsense.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Pepper of Thoughts

Interesting analysis of why Paul doesn't attack Romney much.

Andrew Sullivan equivocates between two meanings of "abortion." The meaning used in the titular question is "Do animals deliberately end their own pregnancies?" But the meaning used in the reports Sullivan cites is, "Animals in certain circumstances have lots of pregnancies that end early." Well, no one ever doubted that sometimes animal pregnancies "abort" as in "miscarry"!

S*&t Brooklyn people say:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Historical Research Is Hard Work

I posted the other day about the "guy who shot his kid's laptop." But what I was mostly posting about was The Last Psychiatrist's analysis of reaction to the video.

But in the comments, Prateek became a bit distraught, because I hadn't realized the whole thing was a hoax. This was interesting to me: this required historical research!

I followed the hint Prateek provided and found a video of some old codger (pot, meet kettle) chewin' on a pipe and making accusations against Tommy Jordan (the guy in the laptopicide video): that, for instance, Jordan is no IT dude at all. And the pipe-eatin' codger provided a link to where Jordan "actually" works. If you follow that link, you find out that Jordan... is their IT guy! So the guy who is "debunking" the original video can be debunked himself, at least on one point.

The long and the short of this is not to figure out whether this guy really shot his daughter's laptop -- I don't care that much -- but to illustrate something of the nature of historical research. The fact someone says "I shot my daughter's laptop" does not mean he did. Nor does the fact that someone says he's a liar mean that he is. And lastly, the issue is not a matter of the reliability or trustworthiness of the two disputants. Very unreliable people tell the truth at least occasionally, while the most honest man in the world can make mistakes. (But this is actually the point that many people stop at in historical thinking: "He was totally believable!" "No, his story made no sense!")

Both videos are pieces of evidence. If we really wanted to resolve the question of, "Did this dude shoot his daughter's laptop?" (but, again, who really cares?), we'd have to keep researching. We'd try to find the laptop and see the bullet hole. We'd interview Jordan's daughter. We'd find people who could tell us about the father-daughter relationship. And we'd keep going until we ran out of places to look, or we became certain of the answer to our question.

And what we would be doing, through this whole process, could not plausibly be described as collecting "known facts" or "assembling data" and then placing an interpretation on it. No, historical research is what we do to determine what the facts were.

John Gray, Atheist...

on the "childishness" of the new atheists:

"The paradox of an immensely powerful mind mistrusting the intellect is not new. Pascal needed intellectual humility because he had so many reasons to be proud of his intelligence. It is only the illiteracy of the current generation of atheists that leads them to think religious practitioners must be stupid or thoughtless. Were Augustine, Maimonides and al-Ghazali - to mention only religious thinkers in monotheist traditions - lacking in intellectual vitality? The question is absurd but the fact it can be asked at all might be thought to pose a difficulty for de Botton. His spirited and refreshingly humane book aims to show that religion serves needs that an entirely secular life cannot satisfy. He will not persuade those for whom atheism is a militant creed. Such people are best left with their certainties, however childish."

(Hat tip Rod Dreher.)

China: Fixing Your Public Image Is Easy

A lot of people, especially in the West, don't like you, because you are an undemocratic nation. This is easy to handle. Here is what to do:

Divide the Chinese Communist Party in two. You can do this by lot, if you wish. Call one half, say, the Rommunists, and the other half the Dommunists. Now, each side must begin to violently denounce the other side in the press, in speeches, in forums like the UN: in short, whenever addressing any public. Announce that elections will be held in a year or so, and then rig the process so that only candidates nominated by the Rommunists or the Dommunists can possibly win. Either the Ds or the Rs will capture control of the government. But tell the losers not to worry: they will get nice, cozy positions in government-connected industries, where they will bide their time until, in the next election or the one after, they will be back in office. And meanwhile, the winning party should announce the golden age has dawned upon the earth, while the losing party proclaim that the apocalypse is nigh. Heck, for laughs, you can even have the losing party declare that the leader of the winning party is not even really Chinese, and is out to destroy China.

The amazing thing about this plan is that you can continue to follow almost every single policy you are following today, and suddenly, many, many more people in the West will like you. Simply by alternating which half of the Communist Party implements those policies over a period of time, you will have become democratic. And over here, we know 'democratic' is synonymous with 'good.'

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Dollars Is Fluctuatin!

Aah! Bob Murphy posted a comment here, I realized what I thought was Kling's statement is a statement he is attributing to goldbugs! My arguments were all OK, but they shouldn't have been directed against Kling!

So, a big oops.

You Can Find Correlations Where You Want

Economist Keith Chen has done work showing there is a significant correlation between strong-FTR languages (future time reference) and low savings rates, and weak-FTR languages and higher savings rates.

The difficulty? Well, here's the linguist, Östen Dahl, upon whose work Chen's classification is supposedly based (from the comments section of the above post):

"I do not specify a binary classification of European languages (let alone the languages of the world) and I do not use the terms 'strong-FTR language' and 'weak-FTR language.' (In the abstract of his working paper, Chen says 'what linguists call strong-FTR languages' — what he should have said is 'what I call strong-FTR languages'; Google Scholar yields no hits for the phrase 'strong-FTR language' except Chen's own paper.)"

In other words, Chen has found a strong correlation... based on a distinction that he himself made up, and that linguistics experts say does not have a basis in their science! If the distinction is bogus, then the correlation is surely pure chance.

UPDATE: An important point here, I think: Dahl writes, "It is quite clear that FTR marking differs cross-linguistically on many parameters for which information is often lacking in grammars..."

So, if a linguist who studies these things for a living is asked, "Does language X differentiate the future from the present?" he is likely to say, "In some ways, 'yes,' and in others, 'no.'" But such fuzziness can't be tolerated if you want to do a "hard," quantitative study. So Chen was forced to invent a binary distinction where none exists.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Pepper of Thoughts

The Last Psychiatrist writes about the guy who shot his kid's computer:

'"Kids today are so goddam spoiled.  When I was their age I had to work, now all they do is play video games..."

'Who bought them the video game?  What did you think they were going to do with it?  Trade it for a calculus tutor?'

What happens when you try to avoid saying a taboo word.

The sexual division of labor appears to go as far back in human history as we look, and to have existed everywhere. But, if you've got a hold of an ideology that says it's not a good idea, then out with it!

Irony

My friend was on his porch, talking to a naturalist who was over for lunch. She mentioned hummingbirds, and he said, "Well, we don't have them in Connecticut," he never having seen one in his life.

She pointed over his should and said, "Well, then, what is that?" He turned, and there was the first and only hummingbird he has ever seen.

*****

My wife had just parked the car, and asked me to fold in the side-view mirror. I started to say, "Really, is that necessary -- have you ever actually seen..." when, there on the ground, I saw the completely smashed up side-view mirror of a Mercedes parked behind us, the first and only time I have seen one actually taken off of a parked car.

Well, If It Helps Bash China, What the Hey?

Hannah Beech makes a claim that immediately rang false to me:

"Firstly, at a mere 6’3”—relatively short by basketball standards—Lin might not have registered with Chinese basketball scouts, who in their quest for suitable kids to funnel into the state sports system are obsessed with height over any individual passion for hoops."

Does Chinese basketball really not have a place for players who are a mere 6'3"? That would be shocking. And rightly so, because it is nonsense. Almost every single roster I have looked up for a Chinese basketball team has multiple players 6'3" and under, some as short as 5'9". (I found two teams that only had one player 6'3" or under, and none that didn't have at least one.) Lin's height obviously would have been no problem at all. And it only took me a couple of minutes to discover this. But the fact this is so easily debunked did not stop others from repeating it!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio

Kevin Vallier Gets It Right

Libertarianism is not a uniquely "non-coercive" political philosophy:

"So let me pose a question to traditional libertarians... you want to set up a libertarian society because you think it is required by justice and to serve the common good. But your free and equal fellows reasonably reject your conception of property rights. As a result, the coercion you are prepared to use to defend your property against their encroachments will be coercion that they have strong reason to reject."

He's in It to Wing It!

Ron Paul: Mitt Romney's wingman.

And check this out: if you simply disagree with Ron Paul's views on money and write about it, that constitutes a "vicious hit piece." A calm dissection of Paul's views is "crazed." Is there any group of people more paranoid and defensive than Paul's supporters?

And not only that, they also ignores to learn English! ("He ignores to mention this is the classic definition of inflation.")

And the Place Was Filled with Foreigners!

J.R. Smith on playing in China: "[There is definitely a difficulty because] they don't speak the language."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Technology: Not Advancing as Fast as You Think

More evidence for Tyler Cowen's Great Stagnation: I went to the sporting goods store today and bought some dumbbells. With all of the advances in materials science, you'd think they could do a lot better, but no: a set of 10-lb dumbbells still weighs just as much as it did forty years ago.

Know Your Gnostics

Is now available online.

Tell me what you think of my handling of the gnostic issue, PS Huff.

Margin Call

Great movie, much better than either Wall Street movie or anything else I've seen on the financial industry. The acting is great, and the accuracy in depiction phenomenal.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

You Know What Really Sucks?

Not only was there a famous philosopher named Berkeley, there is also a city named Berkeley. And that city has a university in it. And that university has a prolific publishing house.

So when you search JStor for papers with "Berkeley" in the full text, you get a lot of false positives.

Voegelin on Rawls

"In the first place you have certainly an accredited respectable gentleman who is a professor at Harvard.

"In the second place, he develops a contract theory in complete ignorance of the fact that in the Republic, Book II, Plato has explained why contract theories don't work. Crass philosophical ignorance! Incredible impertinence in believing that he can develop axioms like contract theories and so on as a basis of anything. Complete ignorance of the famous Platonic dichotomies of philosophy and philodoxy, of justice and injustice, of doxa and so on, and episteme.

"And on this basis (I wouldn't even call it semi-literate–at least three quarters illiterate) regarding philosophical matters, he publishes a book which attracts enormous attention (also enormous criticism, not only applause).

"But after all, it is a major event if you look at the periodicals and the publications and so on; there are books written about it, there are articles written about it, and so on.

"So this production, which is practically a documentation of the illiteracy of our contemporary philosophical population you might say, is a book which attracts major attention and is an important event in society." -- Eric Voegelin

As I Was Mentioning

As Patrick Deneen notes, the HHS mandate is a perfect example of liberalism's drive to impose liberal values on everyone:

"From its earliest articulation, liberalism has set its sights on the rout of Catholic Christendom. Liberalism was fundamentally animated by a deep philosophical and theological objection to Catholicism – and, until recent times, vice-versa. Debate over the HHS mandate should be understood in its broadest context: the longstanding effort to wholly remake society in the image and likeness of liberal philosophy. That philosophy holds at its core that humans are by nature free, autonomous and independent, bound only by positive law that seeks to regulate physical behavior that results in physical harm to others (and, increasingly, selves). Liberal people should not be bound by any limitation upon their natural freedom that does not cause harm (mainly physical harm) to another human; otherwise, the State should be indifferent ('neutral') to any claims regarding the nature of the 'the Good.'"

One might think these liberal values are the right values, and should be imposed on those, like the Catholic heirarchy, that reject them. Just don't pretend this isn't imposing one's own morals on others!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Barter Came After Money

"The economists tell us a neat story about the development of money. The primitive world, they tell us, begins in barter, develops in money, and matures in credit systems. The problem however, is that the historians and the anthropologists have been telling the economists, and telling them for over 100 years, that they can find no record of this development; in fact, the actual history seems to be just the opposite: first comes credit, then money, and finally barter systems. Widespread barter systems only come about after the collapse of monetary systems, and even then money is still used as a unit of account, as a way of equating dissimilar items." -- John Medaille

Competing Moral Visions

Since Bob Murphy seems confused about what I was claiming in this post, I thought I would try to clarify. Consider this example:

A starving family, the Aquinines, is wandering the roads of Rothbardia during some hard times. (I know, I know: there would never be hard times in Rothbardia! But this is a thought experiment, so play along.) They come upon a field owned by Walter Block, overflowing with ripened crops. Being good Thomists, they believe that if they are starving, and someone else has plenty of extra food, there is nothing wrong with their eating some of that surplus to keep themselves alive. So they sit down and begin snacking, when along comes Walter, patrolling his land, shotgun on his shoulder.

Now, Walter might be in a kindly mood and allow them to eat, but he clearly believes he has every legal right to drive these "marauders" off, using deadly force if necessary. Let's say he does so.

What I was contending, in the post linked to above, is that this result represents a case of Walter using force to impose his morality on others. Sometimes, libertarians will try to deny this, saying something like, "Well, it was his property, so he gets to set the rules -- the vagrants are perfectly entitled to have their own rules on their own property!"

But saying that is merely to assume the libertarian conclusion: property rights are absolute, and the property owner can set whatever rules he wants to set on his own property. That is precisely what is disputed between the Thomists, who think private property is nice, but can be trumped by other moral concerns, and the ancap, who thinks that property rights trump all. In seeking to make ancapistan reality, Block, and other ancaps, are seeking to realize a moral vision, one that competes with rival visions, and to gain the ability to use force to make others conform to that vision. I do not condemn them for that: that's what politics is about! But it is a mere bit of propaganda to pretend that libertarianism is just a morally neutral framework that does not choose moral sides. (And that is not to say that many libertarians don't sincerely believe their own propaganda!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Pepper of Thoughts

Lee M. on why Christianity just doesn't depend on things like the historical existence of a "first man" named Adam.

Courtesy of Language Log: "New York Daily News sports editor Paul Gallico wrote in the mid 1930s that basketball 'appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background [because] the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind and flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smartalecness.'" That is, of course, why Jews still dominate the NBA to this day.

Hanging out at a party with a lot of obnoxious guests, and looking for a way to express your feelings? Try, "This party has more dicks than the Icelandic Phallological Museum." And please consider making a donation.

The Liberal Illusion

Now, one of the things grad school does for one is that it teaches one how to use words in a way no one else will understand. And here that word is "liberal." In political theory, "liberal" means everyone from Ted Kennedy to Murray Rothbard: left-liberals and libertarians are (quite correctly) understood as being but branches of the Enlightenment project.

The liberal illusion is this: that liberalism is morally neutral amongst the diverse moral viewpoints held by citizens, and only seeks to create a "meta-framework" in which they can get along peacefully. In fact, liberalism, like every other approach to politics, is grounded in and promotes a particular moral view of society, and uses coercion to establish that view. And the view liberalism promotes is that individual autonomy must always, or at least nearly always, trump every other claim in the public sphere. (For lengthy demonstrations of this point, see Alasdair MacIntyre's Whose Justice? Which Rationality? or Charles Taylor's The Sources of the Self.)

This illusion frequently manifests itself in a particular sort of accusation which liberals direct at anyone challenging the liberal dominance over moral discourse: "You are attempting to impose your morality by force on others!" For example, consider this: One of the costs of living in New York is that one is regularly exposed to pornography by simply walking down the street or buying a cup of coffee, since news stands and delis prominently display a selection of pornographic magazines. And the people thus exposed include young children.

However, if I were to attempt getting the public display of these magazines banned, liberals would accuse me of "imposing" my morality, by force, on others, failing to recognize that that is precisely what they wish to do, as well: they wish to impose a view that holds the "right" of people to display pornography trumps the right of anyone who wishes to be able to walk down the street without being exposed to it. Now, it is one thing to argue that that position is morally superior to opposing views, but that is generally not what liberals do: instead, they claim that their stance is morally neutral ("No one is forcing you to look at those magazines!" -- Well, true: I could put out my eyes, and those of my children, and then we wouldn't see them!) among diverse moral stances. And if this could be called a "trick," then it is a self-played one: most liberals actually believe this rhetoric.

We can see this illusion at work everyday in op-eds and on the news and in political stump speeches and government press releases. It is at work in the nonsensical response often given to those opposed to abortion: "If you are against abortion, don't have one!" Certainly; and if you are against murder, don't murder anyone! Similarly, a New York company rented billboards and used them to display the idiotic slogan: "If you don't like gay marriage, don't get gay married." (By asking for the right to marry, gay couples are very explicitly leaving the "purely private" sphere and asking for public recognition of their couplehood, and it is surely a matter of public interest as to whether or not granting such recognition is a good idea. Having asked for such recognition, it is ludicrous to tell anyone who decides it should not be granted to mind their own business!)

One final example... the one, in fact, that prompted this post. Gene Healy writes: "The Tea Party movement was supposed to represent an end to this sort of moralistic Big Government conservatism [that seeks to promote strong families]."

Gene, the idea that the government has no business passing laws strengthening families is not a non-"moralistic" stance; it is a rival moral stance to the view that government does have a business passing such laws. Rick Santorum's legislative proposals may be bad ideas, and your opposition correct; but if that is so, it is not because his position is moralistic and yours isn't; it is because you have a better moral position than he does.

UPDATE: Although I am often a sharp critic of Murray Rothbard, I have always admired this about him: he was quite willing to admit that his position was a non-neutral moral stance, and that he thought it should beat out, on moral grounds, rival moral positions.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Being There

It has always amused me how much emphasis we place, in our non-fiction media, on someone being "on the scene." You see this, for instance, when there is a big meeting at City Hall, or a riot in a prison, or the police are at some celebrity's house. Turn on the news, and there will be a reporter, outside of City Hall, or just beyond the fence around the prison, or on the other side of the police tape from the Celebrity's house. Generally speaking, the only information these reporters will have is what authorities are releasing to them, which they could just as easily have had e-mailed to their office: yet there they are, the wind sweeping their hair, reporting on the scene. Somehow, that makes their reporting of the official press release more trustworthy, or accurate, or something.

But we of book culture are subject to this bias as well. I'm reading Michael Erard's Babel No More right now, a book about hyperpolyglots (people fluent in more six or more languages). Erard begins his tale discussing Cardinal Mezzofanti, who appears to have been fairly fluent in about 30 languages, and to have had some knowledge of another 30 or more. In the course of his investigations, Erard travels to Bologna, the Cardinal's hometown.

What does he do there? Will, he spends what appears to be four or five days (it is not entirely clear from the narrative, but this is the impression I got) messing around in Mezzofanti's papers. These are in a variety of languages, the majority of which Erard cannot read all, a few of which he has some reading ability, and in only one of which, namely, English, he is fluent. Then he visits a scholar who wrote a book about Mezzofanti, and who shows him Mezzofanti's library. He seems to spend about an hour or two talking to that fellow, and then concludes: "I could stay in Bologna until my Italian was molto perfetto, and the truth about the hyperglot would elude me."

Well, yes, with haphazard, lackadaisical research like that, one is not likely to get very far! It's not that Erard accomplished nothing in his time in Bologna, but I doubt he accomplished as much as he could have had he just gone to the New York Public Library and done some serious reading on his topic. The point of the Bologna trip was not to find out anything in particular: the point was to show he was really there, touching Mezzofanti's shit and whatnot.

And you weren't.

Meanwhile, at My Other Site

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

And It's Santorum By a Nose...

Rick Santorum is now... what? About the dozenth Republican to lead in the polls for this year's GOP nomination?

Some time soon, I expect to see Low Tax Looper pull ahead. Prison shouldn't be any barrier, right? At least not compared to being anti-war.

Bait

In the comments on another post, Jim writes "The Caplan post is real Callahan-bait..."

That made me think of a story.

I was working for an HMO in Virginia. I was the manager of an eight person intranet development team,  and Cynthia Esposito, my co-author for the article in that link, was my manager. Outside her office was a little hallway with a desk stuck in it. One of my team, Marcus, worked there, with his back to the passage to Cynthia's office.

One day I went to see my boss, but was stopped in my tracks by a pencil on the floor. I bent over, picked it up, and said, "Marcus, you dropped this."

He turned from his work and noticed me for the first time. "Oh no, I placed it there."

"You did? Why?"

"It's a Gene trap."

"A what?"

"Well, I needed to talk to you. I guessed you would come see Cynthia at some point during the day, but I wasn't sure I would notice you passing by. So I set a Gene trap: I knew you would never be able to walk over a pencil lying on the floor without taking care of the untidiness it represented."

Years later, when I mentioned the trap to Marcus, he said, "Yes, I often think of you when I watch Monk."

Economists Say the Damnedest Things

I heard Paul Romer present yesterday at NYU. He gave a very interesting talk on his plans for charter cities. But he began his talk claiming something very strange.

"First of all," he said, "think about shaking hands. Shaking hands, I think we can all agree, is an obviously inefficient norm. It's a major way to transmit disease." (I quote from memory!)

Well, there certainly is that downsize to shaking hands. But it also provides social bonding, human contact,  acts as a signaling device ("he had a good, firm handshake"), and probably more of which I am not thinking.

So how does Romer know that these benefits do not outweigh the costs? Well, when pressed on the issue, by Joe Salerno and David Harper, his answer seemed to be, "Well, I would prefer a world without handshaking!" along with an assumption that others would as well.

But even if his assumption were true, it would not guarantee his point: people might mistakenly think they preferred a world without handshaking; for instance, if news stories had made them intensely aware of the germ transmission aspect of the custom, but no one had alerted them to the positive social benefits.

I really don't see how one can declare a norm like shaking hand to be inefficient except as an educated guess. In any case, it is certainly not obviously inefficient, at least to me.




Monday, February 13, 2012

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Blogosphere?

In this blog post, one Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute claims that Ludwig von Mises's case against "free love" is "implicitly" a case against birth control. Because Mises was enough of a traditionalist to be against things like multiple partners at once with no need for commitment, open marriage, and so on (things that were part of the "free love" package), he must, simply must, have had the exact same position on birth control as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It doesn't seem to have occurred to Mike that the vast majority of Americans are:
1) Not advocates of "free love"; and
2) Not opposed to the use of birth control.

Nor does Mike seem to have heard of this new tool called Google, with which one can actually find out what Mises thought about birth control, rather than just giving it your best guess. If he had tried this Google thingie, he might have discovered that Mises was a birth control enthusiast:

"It is not the practice of birth control that is new, but merely the fact that it is more frequently resorted to. Especially new is the fact that the practice is no longer limited to the upper strata of the population, but is common to the whole population. For it is one of the most important social effects of capitalism that it deproletarianizes all strata of society. It raises the standard of living of the masses of the manual workers to such a height that they too turn into 'bourgeois' and think and act like well-to-do burghers. Eager to preserve their standard of living for themselves and for their children, they embark upon birth control. With the spread and progress of capitalism, birth control becomes a universal practice. The transition to capitalism is thus accompanied by two phenomena: a decline both in fertility rates and in mortality rates. The average duration of life is prolonged." -- Human Action

My point here is not to defend any particular view of birth control or free love. No, it is to note, once again, how the desire to bash one's political opponents tends to throw even minimal standards of truth-seeking right out the window. It would have taken Mike about two or three minutes to find out what Mises really thought about birth control... but why bother, when he thought he had a juicy quote with which he could order libertarians to "man up"? And Brad DeLong, without bothering to check this himself, enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon.

Brad, why oh why can't we have a better blogosphere?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Problem in Probablistic Combinations

Given that there are 100 lockers in the YMCA locker room, and it is just before closing, so that only you and one other fellow are left in the room, what is the probability the your two lockers will be immediately adjacent to each other?

Answer below the fold.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Another Famous Member of the Paul Family Chastises Me

"Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." -- St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 9

Perhaps I am the anti-Paul here: when at a libertarian blog, I become like a statist. When at a traditional Catholic blog, I become like a Protestant. When at a liberal blog, I become like a traditionalist.

Perhaps there was a reason I heard this epistle last week? Nah, couldn't be!

Alerting Bob Murphy: Krugman Is on Our Side

At least on this issue.: a reduction in the price of (certain) assets is not the destruction of wealth, and does not reduce output capacity.

This was first noted explicitly (to my limited knowledge) by the late, great Fritz Machlup. Machlup wrote:

"While it is perfectly clear that an individual capitalist or speculator may make losses on the stock exchange, it is very doubtful whether 'society' can make such losses."

Just so: if stocks decline, what has occurred is that certain people (the owners of stocks) have become poorer, and other people (for instance, those holding cash but interested in buying stocks) are now wealthier, because their cash can now buy more in the way of stocks. Bob and I, blissfully unaware of having been anticipated in our "breakthrough" by several decades, basically repeated Machlup. (I still think we wrote a fine article, just not one as original as I thought it was when we wrote it!)

And now Krugman points out the same thing. The idea that a decline in stock prices (or housing prices, etc.) is a "destruction of wealth" for the economy as a whole is special pleading for the owners of that asset. It is a fallacy to which "right-wing" economists who are torch-bearers for the stock-investor class are especially prey.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Is This a Parody to Show How Dumb the Whole "Meme" Business Is?

John Stossel says that ideas have sex. My questions are legion.

When the idea that, when tied, one should hold the ball for the last shot in hoops, mates with the idea that the number of primes is infinite, what does their offspring look like?

If two ideas of the same sex have been steadily mating for many years, should we allow them to be married?

Is it moral for ideas to have anal sex?

And, most of all: The concept of a gene is useful in biology because it represents a unit of inheritance, and based upon the genes present in the two parents, we can make very good probabilistic predictions about various traits of their offspring.

But, besides just making up a cute name that sounds kind of like "gene," what is the identifiable unit of inheritance in ideas? How do we detect what "memes" are present in various ideas? What mathematical formulas have been developed for predicting which "memes" will appear in the "offspring" of two ideas?

Wait: You say the answers are "there isn't one," "we don't," and "none"?! So this is just the new phrenology?

Things That Just Ain't So

"People only pay their taxes at the point of a gun." -- Libertarianism 101

"Personally, I don’t mind paying taxes that support the public schools, because I see them as a public good, even though my family chooses not to use them." -- Rod Dreher

An Idea So Silly

that the dude should have dropped it as soon as he put away the bong. My favorite bit: it is "jaw-droppingly easy" to create whatever spurious correlations you want, once you set your mind to it. ("Speakers who have the sound 'f' in their language are more likely to open delis.")

That Fascinating Paul Family

NBA all star, US Senator, presidential candidate, Super Bowl winner, transvestite: Is there anything this family cannot achieve?




Thursday, February 09, 2012

Waiting for Godot?

The crime that is sure to happen here soon? The upcoming bondage party?

In any case, these cuffs have been attached to this fence for over a week:




That's a Shutout, Folks

The Obama administration loses 9-0 at the Supreme Court, which acts to prevent a major violation of religious freedom. Signs say the contraception assault on the Catholic Church will be struck down as well if it gets to SCOTUS.

This Raises the Question of Begging the Question

I like the answer as to how to use the phrase "beg the question," given in point number four: don't. You lose whether you use it in the traditional or the newly popular meaning. And there are better phrases to choose for either meaning.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

My New Coffeepot

My wife bought this fancy pants, hi-tech sleek black and chrome thing. This morning it beeped. Went I went down to check it, the display read,

"Coffee is ready. That new brand you got: meh.

"But what do you think about that Santorum sweep in the Midwest? Game changer, huh?

"By the way, the fridge says the blue cheese ain't doin' so well. Just sayin'."

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Oh-oh

This isn't good, folks:




Bulbs well above ground, and trees in bloom, in New York, on February 7? (And will you look at the size of that spider?!)

The Mark of Zotero

I'm getting seriously into organizing my Berkeley paper at this point, and thus am back to using Zotero, the reference management tool upon which I settled, again. Some comments:

Good points: It's free. It integrates into Word and Firefox, both of which I was already using. It syncs your references across machines for you. It makes it pretty easy to grab citations from off of the Web. Getting them into Word is not too bad, but...

Bad points: The user interface is a little mysterious: Things aren't always where you expect them to be. It forces you to use Firefox. But the worst is that it fights with you over formats. I had my bibliographical entries in a format I like and generally use. When I imported several entries today, they came in slightly differently. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just tweak them to my style." But the next import not only came in Zotero's way (as I expected), it also put all of the entries I had just tweaked back in Zotero's format! Aargh.

I finally just gave up, and adopted Zotero's format. (Of course, they have a number of options for bibliographical entries, but I have no idea if any of them are exactly the format I wanted, and I didn't desire to go through everyone of them to find out.)

In any case, I am in general pleased with it, and will keep using it. I expect the more I do so, the higher will be the pleasure / pain ratio the product delivers.

UPDATE: Another problem: I haven't figured out how to get Zotero to import JStor references properly. Daniel Silva, anything on this? Anyone else?

Monday, February 06, 2012

How Many Mammograms Does Planned Parenthood Perform Each Year?

It turns out the answer is... zero! No one was going to lose access to mammograms because Komen stopped giving Planned Parenthood money, because Planned Parenthood doesn't do any mammograms. There won't be any "sections" of the country where women can no longer get mammograms if Planned Parenthood lacks Komen funding, because Planned Parenthood doesn't do any mammograms

Oops.

UPDATE: Title changed from "provide" to "perform," because Planned Parenthood "provides" screening in that it refers for and may help pay for mammograms. But obviously Komen could just fund the people who are getting the referrals directly without diminishing the availability of screening.

But, Is It Portland Organic?


Hat tip to Lee M.

Now Online

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Why Mention Him?

For some reason, at the end of her halftime show, Madonna put up Ron Artest's new name in big lights! Maybe they're going out or something.

History of Thought Alert, and, Why Sumner Is Wrong

Mario Rizzo's colloquium has a very interesting paper on tap for this week, discussing the unacknowledged sources of Keynes's General Theory, "Origins of The General Theory: How Keynes Came to Write a Book on Say’s Law and Why it Still Matters" by Steven Kates.

Here is a quote I found in the paper, which leads us to the "Sumner Is Wrong" portion of my title:

"Spending is good for trade -- the extravagant man benefits his neighbors -- in a society where S > I generally, the young gentleman would perhaps be conferring a benefit..." (Tarshis's notes on Keynes's lectures of Michaelmas, 1932)

The important thing here regarding Sumner's contention that S simply must, must, must equal I is that, well, no it needn't. It depends upon how you define S and I. Above, we see Keynes developing a framework in which S clearly need not equal I. It is one thing for Sumner to argue that, "Well, such a framework (and its concomitant set of definitions) is less useful than one (including its definitions) in which they are necessarily equal." But he made no such argument: He simply wrote several times in capital letters that S has to equal I.

Note well: I am not arguing that Sumner may not have a case, may not have a fantastic case, perhaps -- I don't know! -- that we ought to define S as equal to I. That is just not the question I am addressing. Instead, my target is Sumner's very odd contention which seems to be that God decreed that in all frameworks S must be defined as equal to I, or something of the sort.

Interpreting Nevada

Romney will be the nominee. Gingrich will be able to challenge him in a few states where he is (or almost is) a native son, e.g., he is likely to take Georgia. But Gingrich has too much baggage, and too little money, too represent a serious threat.

Paul did well: it looks like about 18% of the vote for a third place finish. But this is a state in which he campaigned fairly hard, that is fairly libertarian, and which has a caucus, which everyone says favors Paul vis-a-vis primaries. So my prediction is bearing out: the ceiling on Paul's support is roughly 20%. I didn't arrive at this estimate because I hate Paul, or in order to stab him in the back. I arrived at it by considering this simple fact: about 80% of GOP voters are enthusiastically hawkish. Ron Paul is the anti-hawk. How the hell is he going to get the votes of that 80%?

Well, he isn't! This is reality, not Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Look, I really wish these people weren't all so hawkish. I think their position is evil and destructive. But my wishing isn't going to change a thing.

And I'll let you in on another little secret: Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell are experienced, savvy political operators. They have known the above fact since the start of the campaign. Neither of them has ever thought that Paul had any chance of winning. (And by any chance, I mean any realistic chance.) This is a campaign aimed at influence. And it just may garner some.

Italian in Little Italy

One of my instructors in Siena talked about her time in New York with me. She mentioned that she had been to Little Italy, and then she chuckled.

"You know," she said, "there are a lot of people in Little Italy who think they can speak Italian. But I never heard anyone actually speaking Italian. Instead, what they spoke was like a stew, with little bits of Italian in it, but also English, and Calabrese, and Sicilian, and Neopolitan, and half-a-dozen other dialects."

A Hipster Travels

He sits in one of the middle seats, listening to his iPhone while reading Phillip Roth. The hair on his head is cleanly shaven, but his beard is dark stubble. The black frames of his glasses are ironically thick.

The stewardess comes around serving drinks. He removes his earphones and places the book on his lap.

"Would you like tea?" she asks him, with a thick Italian accent.

"Does it have caffeine?" He makes a little moue of distaste.

"It is not decaffeinated."

He waves his hand in what for him is a gesture of dismissal. "That's OK."

The stewardess is puzzled. She speaks enough English to know that "OK" means "yes." But he had seemed so concerned that the tea not contain caffeine just a moment before.

He is oblivious to her puzzlement, and merely repeats himself. "That's OK."

She shrugs her shoulders and pours the tea for him. Now he is puzzled. He had not thought of the fact that a foreigner is likely to interpret his "OK" as meaning assent. He had not thought of it because, frankly, he had not been thinking of the woman at all. He had been thinking more important thoughts: thoughts about how his avoiding caffeine is a mark of distinction, thoughts about how well constructed is his iTunes library, with just the right blend of obscure classics and contemporary indie music, and thoughts, if he were to admit it somewhat worrisome, as to whether reading Portnoy's Complaint isn't just a bit cliched.

So now he has a cup of tea that he doesn't want and which he will return untouched, in a few minutes, to an increasingly puzzled stewardess.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Just Because You Hold a Peace Meeting...

it doesn't mean peace is what you'll get.

Similarly, just because you are dismantling regulations in the name of achieving a true free market doesn't mean a true free market is what you'll get.

Third Time Is the Charm?

This is now the second time Ron Paul has publicly defended Mitt Romney against opponent's attacks.

Cabinet position, anyone?

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Current Stack

One of three.




I Know What I'm Getting Daniel Kuehn for Christmas

Komen, Part II

Well, Komen folded to political pressure. It's important to remember that all this pressure had nothing whatsoever to do with breast cancer screenings. If Komen had de-funded a breast cancer screening organization run by the Catholic Church because of its efforts to resist having to fund contraception for employees, all of the protesters would have approved, whatever this would have done to the availability of breast cancer screenings. The issue here is solely abortion: for many on the left today, it has the status of a sacred right. For them, Komen's move was as if a feudal lord in 1200 refused to trade with a monastery, because they practiced Christianity.

UPDATE: Daniel has made me realize my original NeoNazi example was bad, because it gives the protesters an out. Now I will re-frame this the right way.

UPDATE II: In fact, we know the protesters would not be upset by the move vis-a-vis the Catholic Church I mention above, because the Obama administration is trying to close Catholic charities (if they won't fold and fund contraception) for precisely that reason, and the protesters ain't protesting!

Berkeley Was Not a Subjective Idealist, Part III

"What entertainment soever the reasoning or notional part may afford the mind, I will venture to say the other part seems so surely calculated to do good to the body that both must be gainers. For if the lute be not well tuned, the musicians fails in his harmony. And, in our present state, the operations of the mind so far depend on the right tone or good condition of its instrument that anything which greatly contributes to preserve or recover the health of the body is well worth the attention of the mind." -- George Berkeley, "Siris," Philosophical Writings, p. 315

This is from an essay advocating the drinking of tar water for health. So those who conttend that Berkeley "thought the external world didn't exist" would have us believe that he wrote an entire essay on the importance of putting imaginary tar water into his imaginary body.

Not Looking Too Sweet

The trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen's new movie is out. When they can't find anything worthy of even a chuckle for the trailer, the prognosis for the movie as a whole is not good.

Christie, You Make Me Misty

With little to do in the evening in Siena, I read a few mystery novels before going to sleep. On the jacket of those by Agatha Christie, I found the following:

"The mostly widely published author of all time and in any language, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare."

What is this supposed to mean? I can understand eliminating the Bible from the rankings, as either:

1) It was written by many authors; or
2) It was written by one author, but it's not really fair for Him to compete with us in a book selling contest. ("Ooh, God, #1 on the NYT's bestseller list again... I suppose you're going to take gold in the Olympic decathlon again, too, aren't you?")

But why isn't Christie number two, and Shakespeare number one? Even if you think it was really the Count of Basie or the Duke of Ellington who wrote the plays, that is still one author, right?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A Pepper of Thoughts

* Did you know there are bot nets, managed by bot herders? One has been discovered that contains 4 million computers.

* Very good post from Mario Rizzo on rationality.

* By the way, I am available for editing work. (I have been professionally editing for a globally circulated magazine for the last four years, but I've decided to try to pick up more work like this.)

I'm Not Quite Getting This

I see a campaign going around on Facebook to "de-fund the Komen Foundation," because of this situation.

So wait a second... because the Komen Foundation de-funded Planned Parenthood's cancer screening, we should now de-fund all of the other cancer screening they still do support?! Wouldn't that be doing the exact same thing you are mad at them for doing: de-funding some cancer screening for political reasons?

What Makes a World Possible?

I was thinking to myself, "The best possible outcome of the upcoming US presidential election is for Obama to be re-elected."

And then I thought to myself, "What do I mean here by possible?"

Let's say someone says to me, "Well, what about if the Dalai Lama became president?"

OK, that might be better, but it wasn't something I was considering among the "possible results."

Well, why not? After all, it's not logically impossible.

I think what I mean by possible, in this sense, is that it could occur without an extraordinary amount of change happening between now and when the event being imagined is thought to occur. For Obama to be elected president, basically nothing has to change except for it to be November instead of February. But I still consider Romney being elected president possible, because for that to occur, the only further thing that has to happen is for him to win the GOP nomination (which seems very likely at this point), and for about 5% of US voters to change their mind about who should be the next president. And I've seen things like the latter happen.

But for the Dalai Lama to be elected president, first of all, the US Constitution would have to be changed within the next eight months. It would also have to become widely known that he wanted to be president. There would have to be some massive change in the opinions of American voters, so that they would desire to make a foreign-born religious leader our president. And probably a dozen other major things, of which I am not thinking, would have to change as well.

And all of that would be, for me, an unprecedented amount of change over such a time span. That's why I discount that scenario as "not possible." But should it occur anyway, I would not think "I made a logical error in determining what is impossible," because I never meant it was logically impossible. Instead, I would think, "There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy!"

And the amount of change involved explains why I can only say it might be better to have the Dalai Lama be the next president: so many other things would have to be different for that to happen that I really can't even guess whether that world would be better than this one.

Who Should Have the Right to Speak to Lithuanians?

Paul Pillar wonders:

"Should the political authority in whatever state hosts the [alien] contact effort (right now that would be the United States) have the right to determine what is said to the beings in another world? If not, who would have that right? If we receive a message equivalent to 'take me to your leader,' what should be the response? Should the extraterrestrials be patched in to a meeting of the United Nations Security Council? Or how about a G-20 summit?"

Hey, Paul, what about this idea? What about whoever wants to speak to whoever else, they can?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Science Often Ignores Counter-Evidence

and damned right it should!

Have you ever heard of Orffyreus's Wheel? In the 1700s, a rather eccentric personage named Johann Bessler was exhibiting a perpetual motion machine in Europe. Several prominent scientists examined it and were unable to determine how it worked. There were allegations of fraud, but the method of fraud supposedly employed would not have been possible if first hand accounts of the wheel's operation were accurate. (Note: it is an historical problem to determine what actually was occurring! Science depends upon history.)

In any case, scientists simply ignored this unsolved problem, and went on as if the belief in the impossibility of a perpetual motion machine had never been challenged. And good for them that they did! For science to proceed forward, contrary observations must often be disregarded. Michael Polanyi notes that a very similar thing happened in the 1920s, when a (this time) serious scientist presented multiple observations confirming the existence of the ether. But, by this time, scientists were fully convinced there was no need for this hypothesized entity, and simply ignored the observations. Again, history has proven that to have been a sound judgment.

How does one know when to pay attention to contrary observations and when to ignore them? Well, making that judgment well is why it takes years of training to become a good scientist. There is no rule or algorithm that can be learned from a high school textbook that can make the judgment for you.