Thu Apr 9 14:48:02 EDT 2015

climate skepticism

  • Why I am a Climate Change Skeptic

    Dr. Patrick Moore, Greenpeace co-founder and former director Greenpeace International.

    My skepticism begins with the believers' certainty they can predict the global climate with a computer model. The entire basis for the doomsday climate change scenario is the hypothesis increased atmospheric carbon dioxide due to fossil fuel emissions will heat the Earth to unlivable temperatures.
    ... In fact, the Earth has been warming very gradually for 300 years, since the Little Ice Age ended, long before heavy use of fossil fuels. Prior to the Little Ice Age, during the Medieval Warm Period, Vikings colonized Greenland and Newfoundland, when it was warmer there than today. And during Roman times, it was warmer, long before fossil fuels revolutionized civilization.
    The idea it would be catastrophic if carbon dioxide were to increase and average global temperature were to rise a few degrees is preposterous.

  • It's Not The Heat, It's the Tepidity

    Clifford Asness and Aaron Brown

    Of course the real but rather small trend doesn't prove that global warming is a minor issue, far from it. We're just saying the graph taken on its own is actually pretty reassuring, at least compared to predictions, and declared danger points, of the IPCC and similar groups. If things continue along the way they have for the last 135 years, the point at which we reach dangerous temperatures is a very very long time from now. Those predicting that we face a big problem much sooner aren't arguing this from these data, instead they have to be arguing that historical warming trends will change drastically in the near future; that they will not continue at the trend of the past hundred years or so. The historical record to date, and in particular this ubiquitous graph, can't be the basis of an argument that we will hit dangerous levels soon . To argue that we will hit them in this, or even next century requires us to explain away this graph, to explain why the rate of warming will increase.
    ... Of course, this raises the very important issue of whether or not 4°C is the right danger line. No one knows the answer to this question, but 4°C seems the most common figure used by the experts. It’s what the IPCC uses in its most recent report. No one denies that there are some risks and costs to any amount of warming, and on the other hand, almost no one is predicting that warming at or slightly beyond 4°C will cause extinction of the human race either. Risks go up with the amount of warming. We just don't know how fast. Despite the uncertainties, there seems to e a scientific consensus that less than 1°C or 2°C of warming would make global warming no more serious than several other environmental issues, but warming above 4°C would likely make global warming a unique danger. Even if the danger point is 2°C this trend doesn't reach it until over 130 years from now.

    For reactions and rebuttals see Imagine if They Disagreed With Us!

    What we did not expect was the immediate and strong chorus of agreement, yes agreement, from climate scientists. Equally unexpected was that their agreement would be couched in unfriendly terms!


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Tue Mar 31 12:05:36 EDT 2015

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • Homeopathy won't cure you, researchers conclude

    Is the news?

    After a years-long review of hundreds of studies, Australia's top medical research agency has concluded that homeopathy is essentially useless for treating any medical condition.
    ... Although several studies have shown that homeopathic "remedies" have no detectable amounts of the original substance left, homeopaths believe the tinctures retain a "memory" of the original substance and are thus effective.
    ... They say they found no reliable evidence that any homeopathic treatment led to health improvements that were any better than a placebo.
    And the researchers say the studies that did find homeopathic remedies effective were either so poorly designed, or so poorly conducted, that they were too flawed to be considered reliable.

  • Hospitals Are Robbing Us Blind

    Forget Obamacare. The real villains in the American health care system are greedy hospitals and the politicians who protect them

    Whether you’re for Obamacare or against it, you can’t afford to ignore the fact that America’s hospitals have become predatory monopolies.

  • What's Changed about the Standard of Living?

    It's Complicated. But Hopeful.   By Megan McArdle

    This list illustrates why public policy seems to be struggling to come up with a plan of attack against our current insecurities. The welfare state is relatively good at giving people money: you collect the taxes, write a check, and now people have money. The welfare state has proven very bad at giving people stable jobs and stable families, a vibrant community life, promising career tracks, or a cure for their drug addiction. No wonder so many hopes now seem to be pinned on early childhood education, far in excess of the evidence to support them: it is the only thing we have not already tried and failed at.
    But I think this list illustrates the poverty of trying to measure living standards by staring at median wages. Many of the changes of the last century show up in that statistic, but others, like the time no longer spent plucking chickens, or the joys of banishing lye from the pantry, appear nowhere. Nor do the changes in job and family structure that have made the lives of people who are indisputably vastly materially richer than my young grandparents were, nonetheless feel much more precarious. We look into the numbers and think we're seeing hard facts. But in fact, like someone reading tea leaves, we are projecting our intangible impressions onto an ambiguous picture.

  • Why the Idea That a Big Cyber Attack Could Create a Huge Tech Armageddon Is Pure BS

    It turns out that all the talk of cyber Armageddon was a load of bunkum. An elaborate propaganda campaign which only serves as a pretext to sacrifice our civil liberties and channel an ocean of cash to the defense industry.

  • Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?

    The continuing debate over a murky sexual encounter at a 2008 convention for cheekily anti-establishment skeptics underscores a broader dilemma: How can a progressive, important intellectual community behave so poorly towards its female peers?

    Also see, Atheism's shocking woman problem: What's behind the misogyny of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris?.

  • Genetic Data Tools Reveal How Pop Music Evolved In The US

    ... and show that The Beatles didn't start the 1964 American music revolution after all

    Instead, they say that the evolution of music between 1960 and 2010 was largely constant but punctuated by periods of rapid change. "We identified three revolutions: a major one around 1991 and two smaller ones around 1964 and 1983," they say.
    The characters of these revolutions were all different with the 1964 revolution being the most complex.
    ... Another question hotly debated by music commentators is how British bands such as the Beatles and The Rolling Stones influenced the American music scene in the early 1960s. Mauch and co are emphatic in their conclusion. "The British did not start the American revolution of 1964," they say.


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Wed Mar 25 13:31:39 EDT 2015

Problem with Economists

Why do people still pay attention to a profession that has been so wrong so often?

  • What Good Are Economists?

    Robert J. Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale

    Indeed, economists failed to forecast most of the major crises in the last century, including the severe 1920-21 slump, the 1980-82 back-to-back recessions, and the worst of them all, the Great Depression after the 1929 stock-market crash.
    ...
    A cynic might ask, "If economists are so smart, why aren't they the richest people around?" The answer is simple: Most economic ideas are public goods that cannot be patented or otherwise owned by their inventors. Just because most economists are not rich does not mean that they have not made many people richer.

    I guess I must be a cynic because I disagree with the Nobel laureate. If economists understood economics they could become rich without owning or patenting anything, by for example just betting on which way interest rates will go.

  • How Economists Came to Dominate the Conversation

    There's an old Bob Dylan song that goes "there's no success like failure," and it's a lesson that's been central to the rise of the economics profession. Each economic calamity since the Great Depression -- stagflation in the 1970s, the double-dip recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the 1991 downturn -- has served to boost the stock of economists. The long Clinton boom that pushed unemployment down to 3.8 percent was good news for nearly all Americans, except economists, who saw their prominence plummet. Fortunately, the last financial crisis fixed that.

  • Explaining How Economists Explain

    It takes a physicist, Mark Buchanan, to analyze what is wrong with economics:

    Academic economists, they say, use the term "explanation" in a way that other scientists never would. Instead of developing realistic and testable theories like those in biology or physics, they often aim only to develop "theoretical cases" -- imaginary mathematical worlds with their own rules of cause and effect.
    ...
    And yet, Gilboa and his colleagues suggest that most economists don't see checking the external validity of models as part of their job. Rather, they like to make whatever assumptions are needed to prove their results, get published in a journal, and then "leave the similarity judgements to practitioners." If their results are inappropriately applied in the real world, that's not their problem. In no way does it threaten the reputation of the theories they have developed.

As explained in The Economist the only reliable method to evaluate predictions is to conduct a Philip Tetlock forecasting tournament.



Addendum 04/19/2015: Science's Toughest Test, & Higgs Particle vs Piketty

Good science allows only shakeable faiths. Its toughest test comes when new evidence meets old certainties. By that test some economics seems more art (or math masked religion) than science.
...
One aspect of Tyler Cowen's intertribal Piketty review illustrates. He calls Piketty's redistributive recommendations "more ideological than analytic," then complains about "distorting effects" of "intense government control," asserting that growing the "economy would do more than wealth redistribution to combat...inequality." But recent IMF research finds "no observed tradeoff between redistributive...institutions and...growth." Instead "inequality reduces growth". Are Cowen's ideological priors encouraging him to discount contrary evidence?


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Wed Mar 4 22:41:29 EST 2015

Netanyahu

It is pretty hard to find decent coverage of Netanyahu's address to Congress from conventional reports in newspapers or on radio or television. As usual for some good coverage see how Jon Stewart covered it on The Daily Show,

Two points raised there are also mentioned by Robin Wright in The New Yorker news-desk,

  • Netanyahu has made a career out of crusading against Iran. In 1992, as a member of parliament, he predicted that Iran was three to five years away from producing a nuclear weapon, and appealed for its program to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S." He cited the same time frame three years later, in his book "Fighting Terrorism."

  • Netanyahu has long supported American military intervention. In 2002, he testified before Congress in favor of invading Iraq, and predicted that ousting Saddam Hussein would have "enormous positive reverberations on the region" and ripen Iran for revolt against the theocracy. "It's not a question of whether you'd like to see a regime change in Iran but how to achieve it," he said. Today, Iran holds more sway over Iraq than any other country.

What are the odd of someone like Charlie Rose, who gets to interview Netanyahu, ever asking him about his past comments and poor record of predictions?


Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Sat Feb 28 21:36:48 EST 2015

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • A Skeptic's View of Pharmaceutical Progress

    To obtain a balanced view of pharmaceutical progress (or lack thereof), we need to step back, define a few terms and concepts, and make explicit certain assumptions.

    There is also no doubt that some companies have flagrantly covered up negative data. In some cases, after being "caught" the companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines or, in one recent case, settled with harmed patients for $5 billion (Singer 2009).
    Almost everyone outside the industry feels an excessive amount of money is spent on misleading advertising--especially for drugs like those in table 5 that would not sell themselves. Also, the use of ghost writers and excessive payments to thought leaders, florid conflicts of interest, and payments to practicing physicians to encourage specific drug use clearly occur (see table 1). These practices should be outlawed (Stein-brook 2009).
    Finally, scientifically worthless seeding studies (i.e., studies that do not test a hypothesis but are meant to familiarize physicians with the drug with the intent of increasing sales) may be on the wane, as is publishing only positive data and encouraging biased talks and literature. The press, academicians, journals, and public have wisely cracked down and lampooned such practices endlessly.
    However, I submit that incredible good has been done by the drugs and vaccines in tables 3 and 4 (and many others not mentioned because of space limitations, like erythropoetin for certain types of anemia).

    See the full article for more of the positives (based on facts). Overall, I think a good skeptical nuanced analysis.

  • Fluoridation
    Three part series by Discover magazine blogger George Johnson.

    "These results do not allow us to make any judgment regarding possible levels of risk at levels of exposure typical for water fluoridation in the U.S. On the other hand, neither can it be concluded that no risk is present."
    Which is the problem with all of these issues: you can never prove a negative. And that opens the door for truthiness with numbers. Scienciness.

  • Should Unprovable Physics Be Considered Philosophy?

    In some large part, science is powerful not because of ideas but because of how it treats ideas. Science asks, prove it. The distinction is what separates science from philosophy: falsifiable claims and experimentation.
    . . . String theory and the multiverse are concepts that by definition defy experimentation, and yet a small movement within cosmology is attempting to make the case that they should be exempt. At stake, according to Ellis and Silk, is the integrity of science itself.
    . . .
    The scientific high-ground is at stake, with an ocean of pseudoscientists ready to flood the landscape, taking the public with them. The answer, according to th current paper, lies in a simple question. What observational or experimental evidence is there that would convince a theorist that their theory is wrong? If there is none, then the theory is not a scientific theory.

  • The Key to Science (and Life) Is Being Wrong

    In order to recognize wrongness, scientists must maintain some level of detachment from their cherished theories and be open to the ideas of others in their respective fields.
    ... Wrongness is something we all secretly or openly dread. According to self-described "Wrongologist" Kathryn Schulz, in the abstract, we all understand that we're fallible but on the personal level, we leave little to no room for being wrong.

  • The Dark Science Of Interrogation

    How to find out anything from anyone

    Hundreds of studies have shown that interrogators would be just as well off flipping a coin

  • The Value of Violence

    Ginsberg's book is a direct challenge to the optimism of the celebrated cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker, whose 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, argued that violence is playing a diminishing role in human affairs. Ginsberg counters that violence is essential both to transformational change and to the preservation of political and social order.

    Also see Ginsberg's article Why Violence Works in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • The Preference for Potential

    Paper from Stanford University and Harvard Business School

    When people seek to impress others, they often do so by highlighting individual achievements. Despite the intuitive appeal of this strategy, we demonstrate that people often prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others. Indeed, compared with references to achievement (e.g., "this person has won an award for his work"), references to potential (e.g., "this person could win an award for his work") appear to stimulate greater interest and processing, which can translate into more favorable reactions. This tendency creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing. We document this preference for potential in laboratory and field experiments, using targets ranging from athletes to comedians to graduate school applicants and measures ranging from salary allocations to online ad clicks to admission decisions.


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Fri Feb 20 14:23:45 EST 2015

Artificial Intelligence

Several well known smart people have been voicing fears about artificial intelligence being a threat to to humanity. For example,

But I fail to see any mention of a timeline. Is it decades, centuries or millennia? Predictions without a date attached to them are meaningless since they can never be proven wrong. I disagree with the above, so it's nice to see there are plenty of others who do also.

  • No, the robots are not going to rise up and kill you

    David W. Buchanan, member of IBM Watson "Jeopardy!" system team

    Science fiction is partly responsible for these fears. A common trope works as follows: Step 1: Humans create AI to perform some unpleasant or difficult task. Step 2: The AI becomes conscious. Step 3: The AI decides to kill us all. As science fiction, such stories can be great fun. As science fact, the narrative is suspect, especially around Step 2, which assumes that by synthesizing intelligence, we will somehow automatically, or accidentally, create consciousness. I call this the consciousness fallacy. It seems plausible at first, but the evidence doesn't support it. And if it is false, it means we should look at AI very differently.

  • An Open Letter To Everyone Tricked Into Fearing Artificial Intelligence

    Erik Sofge: Don't believe the hype about artificial intelligence, or the horror

    Forget about the risk that machines pose to us in the decades ahead. The more pertinent question, in 2015, is whether anyone is going to protect mankind from its willfully ignorant journalists.
    ...
    Here's the letter at its most ominous, which is to say, not ominous at all:

        "Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research
        how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls."

    ...
    To use the CNET and BBC stories as examples, neither includes quotes or clarifications from the researchers who helped put together either the letter or its companion research document
    ...
    The truth is, there are researchers within the AI community who are extremely concerned about the question of artificial superintelligence, which is why FLI included a section in the letter's companion document about those fears. But it's also true that these researchers are in the extreme minority.

  • Scientists say AI fears unfounded, could hinder tech advances

    Recent alarms over artificial intelligence research raise eyebrows at AI conference

    "We're in control of what we program," Bresina said, noting it was his own opinion and not an official NASA statement. "I'm not worried about the danger of AI... I don't think we're that close at all. We can't program something that learns like a child learns even -- yet. The advances we have are more engineering things. Engineering tools aren't dangerous. We're solving engineering problems."

  • No need to panic -- artificial intelligence has yet to create a doomsday machine

    A malevolent AI will have to outwit not only raw human brainpower but the combination of humans and whatever loyal AI-tech we are able to command -- a combination that will best either on their own.

  • Out of control AI will not kill us, believes Microsoft Research chief

    Eric Horvitz's position contrasts with that of several other leading thinkers.

    A Microsoft Research chief has said he thinks artificial intelligence systems could achieve consciousness, but has played down the threat to human life.


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Fri Jan 30 01:44:11 EST 2015

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • The War with Radical Islam

    Jeffrey D. Sachs

    Yet, in most cases, terrorism is not rooted in insanity. It is more often an act of war, albeit war by the weak rather than by organized states and their armies. Islamist terrorism is a reflection, indeed an extension, of today's wars in the Middle East. And with the meddling of outside powers, those wars are becoming a single regional war -- one that is continually morphing, expanding, and becoming increasingly violent.
    From the jihadist perspective -- the one that American or French Muslims, for example, may pick up in training camps in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen -- daily life is ultra-violent. Death is pervasive, coming as often as not from the bombs, drones, and troops of the United States, France, and other Western powers. And the victims are often the innocent "collateral damage" of Western strikes that hit homes, weddings, funerals, and community meetings.
    ...
    To be clear, Western actions do not provide Islamist terrorism with a scintilla of justification. The reason to point out these actions is to make clear what Islamist terrorism in the West represents to the terrorists: Middle East violence on an expanded front. The West has done much to create that front, arming favored actors, launching proxy wars, and taking the lives of civilians in unconscionable numbers.

    Nice to see an alternative view rarely written about. Read the whole article.

  • Corruption and Revolt

    Does tolerating graft undermine national security?
    Much of the hundred billion dollars the U.S. spent to rebuild Afghanistan was stolen.

    Corruption creeps in, unnoticed, "like some odorless gas," Sarah Chayes writes in her new book, "Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security,"* and confounds policy objectives without attracting much policy attention. Chayes spent most of the past decade living in Afghanistan. Her book, which is part memoir and part treatise, argues that the United States has a tendency not just to ignore international corruption but to compound it, and that in places like Afghanistan this willful ignorance can be destabilizing and dangerous.
    ...
    Chayes cites a survey conducted by U.S. military commanders in Kabul, in which captured Taliban prisoners were asked why they joined the insurgency. The leading reason, according to Chayes, "was not ethnic bias, or disrespect of Islam, or concern that U.S. forces might stay in their country." It was "the perception that the Afghan government was irrevocably corrupt."
    ...
    As a general rule, occupying powers tend to push countries into corruption, not pull them out of it.

  • Redefining Mental Illness

    The report says that there is no strict dividing line between psychosis and normal experience: "Some people find it useful to think of themselves as having an illness. Others prefer to think of their problems as, for example, an aspect of their personality which sometimes gets them into trouble but which they would not want to be without."

    I wholeheartedly agree.

  • The Science Of Politely Ending A Conversation

    Research-based tips on finding a delicate way to part ways.

    After analyzing the final 45 seconds of the interactions, the researchers coded and tallied up the most frequent "leave-taking" behaviors. These included "reinforcement" (short, tacit agreements, such as yeah and uh-huh), "buffing" (brief transition terms, such as well and uh), and "appreciation" (an encouraging declaration along the lines of I've really enjoyed talking with you).

  • Disease Screening & Base Rate Fallacy

    The base rate fallacy refers to the neglect of prior probability of the evidence that supports the conditional probability of a hypothesis.

    Naturally, this has policy implications: if you test more and more people, a large percentage of people will be told they have cancer when they don't -- leading to more invasive testing that has other real side-effects. The trick is either to try to test a high-risk subpopulation (where the prevalence rate is higher) or to improve the test by reducing its false-positive rate.

  • Two-thirds of cancers caused by bad luck, not heredity & environment

    22 out of 31 cancers researchers studied could be explained largely by random mutations

    Plain old bad luck plays a major role in determining who gets cancer and who does not, according to researchers who found that two-thirds of cancer incidence of various types can be blamed on random mutations and not heredity or risky habits like smoking.

  • Keep Calm and Put Down the Sriracha

    It has come to my attention that some of you are becoming unable to eat good food unless it is spiced to within an inch of its life.

    If you are unable to enjoy simple, traditional fare that has been properly prepared with good ingredients, the problem is not with the food; it is with you.

  • Chocolate health myth dissolves

    Health-enhancing flavanols that end up on the shelf will likely appear in form other than chocolate

    But there are lots of foods that contain potentially healthy flavanols, along with other bioactive compounds in complex combinations. So the question is: Would academic scientists in publicly funded institutions be so interested in the cocoa bean if the chocolate industry wasn't supporting so much of the research?


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Thu Jan 22 23:51:53 EST 2015

Evidence Based Medicine (EBM)

Some links to help in deciding whether a medical treatment has any validity.

  • The Cochrane Collaboration

    Trusted evidence. Informed decisions. Better health.

    Cochrane is a global independent network of health practitioners, researchers, patient advocates and others, responding to the challenge of making the vast amounts of evidence generated through research useful for informing decisions about health. We are a not-for-profit organisation with collaborators from over 120 countries working together to produce credible, accessible health information that is free from commercial sponsorship and other conflicts of interest.

  • theNNT

    The Number-Needed-to-Treat.   Quick summaries of evidence-based medicine.

    We are a group of physicians that have developed a framework and rating system to evaluate therapies based on their patient-important benefits and harms as well as a system to evaluate diagnostics by patient sign, symptom, lab test or study.
    We only use the highest quality, evidence-based studies (frequently, but not always Cochrane Reviews) , and we accept no outside funding or advertisements.

  • Alternative Medicine Providers Show Their Greedy Side

    Fighting Pseudoscience.

    A growing lobby is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM ) providers, who have discovered a new opportunity to extract even more money from patients than they do already. They want the government to force insurance providers to pay for quack treatments, regardless of whether or not the treatments work. Any attempt to require evidence, they argue, amounts to discrimination.

    Alternative Medicine is the antithesis of evidence based medicine.


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Wed Dec 31 23:34:25 EST 2014

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • The Open-Office Trap

    The open office was originally conceived by a team from Hamburg, Germany, in the nineteen-fifties, to facilitate communication and idea flow. But a growing body of evidence suggests that the open office undermines the very things that it was designed to achieve. In June, 1997, a large oil and gas company in western Canada asked a group of psychologists at the University of Calgary to monitor workers as they transitioned from a traditional office arrangement to an open one. The psychologists assessed the employees' satisfaction with their surroundings, as well as their stress level, job performance, and interpersonal relationships before the transition, four weeks after the transition, and, finally, six months afterward. The employees suffered according to every measure: the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome, and, instead of feeling closer, coworkers felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Productivity fell.

  • Why is everyone so busy?

    Time poverty is a problem partly of perception and partly of distribution

    Leisure time is now the stuff of myth. Some are cursed with too much. Others find it too costly to enjoy. Many spend their spare moments staring at a screen of some kind, even though doing other things (visiting friends, volunteering at a church) tends to make people happier. Not a few presume they will cash in on all their stored leisure time when they finally retire, whenever that may be. In the meantime, being busy has its rewards. Otherwise why would people go to such trouble?
    Alas time, ultimately, is a strange and slippery resource, easily traded, visible only when it passes and often most highly valued when it is gone. No one has ever complained of having too much of it. Instead, most people worry over how it flies, and wonder where it goes. Cruelly, it runs away faster as people get older, as each accumulating year grows less significant, proportionally, but also less vivid. Experiences become less novel and more habitual. The years soon bleed together and end up rushing past, with the most vibrant memories tucked somewhere near the beginning. And of course the more one tries to hold on to something, the swifter it seems to go.

  • The World Is Not Falling Apart

    Never mind the headlines. We've never lived in such peaceful times.
    by Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack

    The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable--homicide, rape, battering, child abuse--have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states--by far the most destructive of all conflicts--are all but obsolete. The increase in the number and deadliness of civil wars since 2010 is circumscribed, puny in comparison with the decline that preceded it, and unlikely to escalate.
    ... Why is the world always "more dangerous than it has ever been"--even as a greater and greater majority of humanity lives in peace and dies of old age?
    Too much of our impression of the world comes from a misleading formula of journalistic narration. Reporters give lavish coverage to gun bursts, explosions, and viral videos, oblivious to how representative they are and apparently innocent of the fact that many were contrived as journalist bait. Then come sound bites from "experts" with vested interests in maximizing the impression of mayhem: generals, politicians, security officials, moral activists. The talking heads on cable news filibuster about the event, desperately hoping to avoid dead air. Newspaper columnists instruct their readers on what emotions to feel.

  • Regular Exercise Induces Changes in DNA

    A study from scientists at Lund University found that exercise induces genome-wide changes in DNA methylation in human adipose tissue, potentially affecting adipocyte metabolism.

    Exercise, even in small doses, changes the expression of our innate DNA. New research from Lund University in Sweden has described for the first time what happens on an epigenetic level in fat cells when we undertake physical activity.
    "Our study shows the positive effects of exercise, because the epigenetic pattern of genes that affect fat storage in the body changes", says Charlotte Ling, Associate Professor at Lund University Diabetes Center.

  • The wealthy suffer from an 'empathy gap' with the poor that is feeding a rise in inequality

    It's also beyond dispute that we are approaching a social consensus that wealth and income inequality in the United States today now threatens to seriously damage our social fabric. That fabric is grounded in two fundamental ideas: liberty, or the freedom to determine our own destinies, and equality. The problem is that over the past thirty years -- in tandem with rising inequality -- we have favored liberty over equality.
    ... The reality is different. The working poor are not like the advantaged, superficial similarities aside. A very significant component of success -- one that may even be more determinative than hard work -- is luck. This is true, even if the advantaged have worked hard to maximize the benefits of that luck. By luck I mostly mean circumstances of birth and natural talents and abilities (which might well include the propensity to work hard).
    ... Why do the disadvantaged tolerate this situation? The American myth of self-reliance. No matter the vagaries of fortune, we consistently find that Americans at all levels believe in some variant of the Horatio Alger myth -- the classic American rags to riches success story -- despite strong empirical evidence that belies it. I think that there is some evidence in recent years that belief in this myth is eroding, a fact that will be dangerous for society if the the system continues as it currently is now.

  • The Rise of the Economic-Policy Truthers

    The great irony is that the trend convincing families that health spending is out of control is the same trend that is holding health spending down. Co-pays and deductibles hit families hard by forcing them to spend out of pocket. But by hitting them hard, they help to reduce hospital and doctor's visits and pull the headline health-spending number lower.
    ...

    Broaden the trend yet further and it is easy to see how many individuals do not believe in the recovery at all. More families have jobs, but they aren't getting wage increases. Many of the new jobs getting created are low-wage ones, after the recession wiped out middle-wage gigs. Families' wallets are getting squeezed with rising costs, while economists promise them that inflation is subdued. Families' health spending is rising, while economists promise them that overall health spending is remarkably flat.

  • How Technology Could Help Fight Income Inequality

    Tyler Cowen

    In the scenarios outlined here, though, growing inequality is highly contingent on particular technologies and the global conditions of the moment. Movements toward greater inequality often set countervailing forces in motion, even if those forces take a long time to come to fruition. From this perspective, rather than seeking to beat down capital, our attention should be directed to leaving open the future possibilities for innovation, change and dynamism. Even if income inequality continues to increase in the short run, as I believe is likely, there exists a plausible and more distant future in which we are mostly much better off and more equal. The history of technology suggests that new opportunities for better living and higher wages are being created, just not as quickly as we might like.

  • Penn Team's Game Theory Analysis Shows How Evolution Favors Cooperation's Collapse

    Last year, University of Pennsylvania researchers Alexander J. Stewart and Joshua B. Plotkin published a mathematical explanation for why cooperation and generosity have evolved in nature. Using the classical game theory match-up known as the Prisoner's Dilemma, they found that generous strategies were the only ones that could persist and succeed in a multi-player, iterated version of the game over the long term.
    But now they've come out with a somewhat less rosy view of evolution. With a new analysis of the Prisoner's Dilemma played in a large, evolving population, they found that adding more flexibility to the game can allow selfish strategies to be more successful. The work paints a dimmer but likely more realistic view of how cooperation and selfishness balance one another in nature.


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Wed Dec 24 19:29:41 EST 2014

Extraterrestrial Life

The Great Alien Debate

In the Scientific American blog "Life, Unbounded", Caleb A. Scharf asks,"Are we alone in the Universe?" :

But the fascinating thing is how we tend to fall into either camp A or camp B, and how strongly we feel about our answers.

... The impasse would be broken if we could detect life with an independent origin elsewhere - either in the solar system or farther beyond - yet that's a challenge that remains unmet.

... In all of these examples, the non-detection of life (whether as fossils or as chemical signatures) is unlikely to eliminate the possibility of life in these places - we simply won't be able to be that thorough.


It seems to me the search for extraterrestrial life isn't than much different than the search for God. In both cases believers claim the absence of evidence just means the search should continue. In response to this article I emailed my thoughts to the author (but have yet to receive an answer):

Would the impasse be broken if we could create life (from non-life) here on earth?
Why can't we mimic the conditions necessary here on earth for single-celled microbial life to be created in a laboratory? If it was done once, why not again? Also if we know what conditions were necessary, wouldn't it narrow down where else to look for such conditions? What prevents us from doing that? Even if life is a series of low probability events, can't we make it more probable in an experimental setup? Is it too difficult to create the conditions or is it that we just don't know what the conditions are and how to do it?
If we can never prove that life does not exist elsewhere, isn't it a matter of faith that it does? How is that different than a religious belief that god exists?
If you don't have the time to answer me directly, perhaps you can address these issues in part 2 or later? Thanks for your attention.


Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments