Sun Apr 28 23:01:51 EDT 2013
Dworkin on Scalia
I've written about the unreasonableness of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia before, so it's nice to see constitutional lawyer Noah Feldman add weight to my argument while commemorating the death of renowned legal scholar Ronald Dworkin:
In response to Scalia, Dworkin had a devastating riposte. How, he asked, did Scalia know that the judge's job was simply to apply the law? The Constitution never expressly says so, and in fact never specifies how it should be interpreted. The answer, Dworkin explained, was that Scalia had to rely on his own theory of the best moral vision for the country. In Scalia's political morality, judges should exercise restraint. But that belief itself was a product of interpretation and moral judgment -- and logically couldn't be otherwise. Scalia's "love affair with textual fidelity," as Dworkin put it, was therefore proof that he was interpreting the Constitution in the light of his moral judgment.
Sun Mar 31 22:06:40 EDT 2013
Items of Interest
Some web links I found to be of interest:
Rand Paul's reasonableness
The Economist takes Frank Bruni of the New York Times to task
concerning his comments about Rand Paul.
Rand Paul has not triangulated his positions on foreign policy, civil liberties or the war on drugs by starting from the GOP consensus and then tacking toward the bipartisan center. Rather, he had been moving mostly toward the Republican Party's standard line, beginning from a more thoroughly libertarian starting point. This has put Mr Paul nevertheless well to the left of mainstream Democrats on a number of issues, but also to the right of mainstream Republicans on others. Apparently this has left Mr Bruni, and no doubt many other unreflective liberals, somewhat confused.and
Were Mr Bruni better supplied with what Keats called "negative capability"--the ability to abide "in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason"--he might have been able to rest content with the observation that Mr Paul is, from a standard liberal's perspective, both better and worse than your typical ideological conservative.
How "Breakthrough Medical Findings" Disappear
by Keith Humphreys in the The Reality-Based Community blog.
diets and remedies are announced by scientists with regularity, yet in most cases subsequent research can't replicate the original "breakthrough".and
Why does this happen? Small studies do a poor job of reliably estimating the effects of medical interventions. For a small study (such as Sacks' and Leng's early work in the top two rows of the table) to get published, it needs to show a big effect - no one is interested in a small study that found nothing. It is likely that many other small studies of fish oil pills were conducted at the same time of Sacks' and Leng's, found no benefit and were therefore not published. But by the play of chance, it was only a matter of time before a small study found what looked like a big enough effect to warrant publication in a journal editor's eyes.
Our brains, and how they're not as simple as we think
Brightly coloured brain scans are a media favourite as they are both attractive to the eye and apparently easy to understand but in reality they represent some of the most complex scientific information we have. They are not maps of activity but maps of the outcome of complex statistical comparisons of blood flow that unevenly relate to actual brain function. This is a problem that scientists are painfully aware of but it is often glossed over when the results get into the press.and
You can see this selective reporting in how neuroscience is used in the media. Psychologist Cliodhna O'Connor and her colleagues investigated how brain science was reported across 10 years of newspaper coverage. Rather than reporting on evidence that most challenged pre-existing opinions, of which there is a great deal, neuroscience was typically cited as a form of "biological proof" to support the biases of the author.
Misguided Nostalgia for Our Paleo Past
To think of ourselves as misfits in our own time and of our own making flatly contradicts what we now understand about the way evolution works--namely, that rate matters. That evolution can be fast, slow, or in-between, and understanding what makes the difference is far more enlightening, and exciting, than holding our flabby modern selves up against a vision--accurate or not--of our well-muscled and harmoniously adapted ancestors.and
If they had known about evolution, would our cave-dwelling forebears have felt nostalgia for the days before they were bipedal, when life was good and the trees were a comfort zone? Scavenging prey from more-formidable predators, similar to what modern hyenas do, is thought to have preceded, or at least accompanied, actual hunting in human history. Were, then, those early hunter-gatherers convinced that swiping a gazelle from the lion that caught it was superior to that newfangled business of running it down yourself? And why stop there? Why not long to be aquatic, since life arose in the sea? In some ways, our lungs are still ill suited to breathing air. For that matter, it might be nice to be unicellular: After all, cancer arises because our differentiated tissues run amok. Single cells don't get cancer.
Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us
Steven Brill's much publicized Time magazine article examining the problem of rising medical bills, including who is responsible for the high prices and profiting the most. (Full article only available to subscribers.)
Taken as a whole, these powerful institutions and the bills they churn out dominate the nation's economy and put demands on taxpayers to a degree unequaled anywhere else on earth. We now spend almost 20% of our gross domestic product on health care, compared with about half that in most developed countries. Yet in every measurable way, the results our health care system produces are no better and often worse than the outcomes in those countries.
The Brain Is Not Computable
Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis says Kurzweil's Singularity isn't going to happen.
human consciousness (and if you believe in it, the soul) simply can't be replicated in silicon. That's because its most important features are the result of unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cellsand
the human brain creates models of tools and machines all the time, and brain implants will just extend that capability
Sat Mar 30 20:00:00 EDT 2013
Items of Interest
Some web links I found to be of interest:
Beware the Big Errors of `Big Data'
Nassim Taleb opines:
Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.and
if I generate (by simulation) a set of 200 variables -- completely random and totally unrelated to each other -- with about 1,000 data points for each, then it would be near impossible not to find in it a certain number of "significant" correlations of sorts. But these correlations would be entirely spurious.
- 2013 Edge Annual Question : WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?
That Cuddly Kitty Is Deadlier Than You Think
Domestic and feral cats are significant predators of a wide range of prey species.
the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States -- both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it -- kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat.
That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer
Jared Diamond on the importance of being attentive to hazards that carry a low risk each time but are encountered frequently.
Consider: If you're a New Guinean living in the forest, and if you adopt the bad habit of sleeping under dead trees whose odds of falling on you that particular night are only 1 in 1,000, you'll be dead within a few years.
The Placebo Phenomenon
Researcher Ted Kaptchuk searches fpr the real ingredients of fake medicine.
researchers have found that placebo treatments--interventions with no active drug ingredients--can stimulate real physiological responses, from changes in heart rate and blood pressure to chemical activity in the brain, in cases involving pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even some symptoms of Parkinson's.and
even patients who knew they were taking placebos described real improvement, reporting twice as much symptom relief as the no-treatment group.
Germs Are Us
An article in The New Yorker, Annals of Science describes how some bacteria and other microorganisms make us sick while many others keep us alive.
We inherit every one of our genes, but we leave the womb without a single microbe. As we pass through our mother's birth canal, we begin to attract entire colonies of bacteria. By the time a child can crawl, he has been blanketed by an enormous, unseen cloud of microorganisms--a hundred trillion or more. They are bacteria, mostly, but also viruses and fungi (including a variety of yeasts), and they come at us from all directions: other people, food, furniture, clothing, cars, buildings, trees, pets, even the air we breathe. They congregate in our digestive systems and our mouths, fill the space between our teeth, cover our skin, and line our throats. We are inhabited by as many as ten thousand bacterial species; these cells outnumber those which we consider our own by ten to one, and weigh, all told, about three pounds--the same as our brain. Together, they are referred to as our microbiome--and they play such a crucial role in our lives that scientists like Blaser have begun to reconsider what it means to be human.
Wed Feb 27 01:45:00 EST 2013
Kahneman on Probabilities
LIVE from the NYPL: NASSIM TALEB & DANIEL KAHNEMAN http://www.nypl.org/audiovideo/live-nypl-nassim-taleb-daniel-kahneman
Download: Video (178.4MB MP4, 1 hr 18 min) http://www.nypl.org/audiovideo/live-nypl-nassim-taleb-daniel-kahnemanAlthough wide-ranging, it is mostly about ideas in Taleb's recent book Antifragile. There is a nice summary in the blog post of financial advisor Robert P. Seawright:
We Suck at Probabilities https://rpseawright.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/we-suck-at-probabilities/I've wondered why people are so bad at dealing with probabilities and I think this quoted excerpt may be the best explanation I've seen:
To compute probabilities you need to keep several possibilities in your mind at once. It's difficult for most people. Typically, we have a single story with a theme. People have a sense of propensity, that the system is more likely to do one thing than the other, but it's quite different from the probabilities where you have to think of two possibilities and weigh their relative chances of happening.
Mon Jan 28 01:41:49 EST 2013
Instead Nagel's conclusion rests largely on the strength of his intuition. His intuition recoils from the claimed plausibility of neo-Darwinism and that, it seems, is that. (Richard Dawkins has called this sort of move the argument from personal incredulity.) But plenty of scientific truths are counterintuitive (does anyone find it intuitive that we're hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour?) and a scientific education is, to a considerable extent, an exercise in taming the authority of one's intuition. Nagel never explains why his intuition should count for so much here.The reviewer summarizes Nagel's positions as:
Nagel is deeply skeptical that any species of materialist reductionism can work. Instead, he concludes, progress on consciousness will require an intellectual revolution at least as radical as Einstein's theory of relativity.But I prefer the reviewer's own thoughts on the subject:
For there might be perfectly good reasons why you can't imagine a solution to the problem of consciousness. As the philosopher Colin McGinn has emphasized, your very inability to imagine a solution might reflect your cognitive limitations as an evolved creature. The point is that we have no reason to believe that we, as organisms whose brains are evolved and finite, can fathom the answer to every question that we can ask. All other species have cognitive limitations, why not us? So even if matter does give rise to mind, we might not be able to understand how.I have felt this way for a long time and it's nice to see a scientist express it so clearly. Actually it seems so obvious to me I cannot understand why anyone would think otherwise!
Sun Jan 20 20:49:00 EST 2013
Items of Interest
Some web links I found to be of interest:
Nassim Taleb: Understanding is a Poor Substitute for Convexity (Antifragility)
In his latest book, the author of The Black Swan says that forecasting and risk measurement do not work. Instead what is needed is the ability to benefit and grow from volatility, errors, and disorder. Similar to how bones need stress to become stronger, stressors are needed in politics and economics and eliminating them makes these systems weaker.
Leading Environmental Activist's Blunt Confession:
I Was Completely Wrong To Oppose GMOs
The British environmentalist Mark Lynas, an early figure in the fight against genetically modified organisms (GMO), now supports genetically modified food. He says: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.
Perverse Economics of the Electric Grid:
As Generation Gets Cheaper, Transmission Costs Soar
In recent years the cost of generating electricity has decreased while transmission and distribution costs have increased. And it looks like the trend will continue because of a decline in transmission infrastructure investment.
Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing
Different activities vary in how much of success depends on skill versus luck. In any case, statistical reasoning is hard.
History lesson: Why the Bush tax cuts were enacted
After the Clinton tax surpluses, Republicans feared we would not have enough debt and the federal government would grow.
How AT&T and Verizon Manipulate Your Smartphone
The big phone companies (AT&T and Verizon) collude with the big cable companies (Comcast and Time Warner) to limit competition between wireless phone and wired internet services.
Mythbusting: Israel and Switzerland are not gun-toting utopias
Ezra Klein discusses with Janet Rosenbaum actual gun policy in Israel and Switzerland, both of which are often used to defend gun ownership in the United States but seemingly should not.
Why the Pundits Are Wrong About Big Money and the 2012 Elections
Both Democrats and Republicans receive obscene amounts of money, but more than determining who wins, it determines what gets discussed during campaigns and what the winner will do after being elected.
Mon Dec 17 02:47:15 EST 2012
Human memory is not like computer memory and is quirky, unreliable and its accuracy cannot be trusted. But in spite of that many people people believe their memory even when it is contradicted by evidence. There is a summary of the psychology of human memory at,
- Memory does not decay Memories remain but they become harder to retrieve.
- Forgetting helps you learn It is easier to learn new information as less relevant information becomes inaccessible.
- 'Lost' memories can live again But even less accessible memories are not gone and can be re-learned more quickly than new information.
- Recalling memories alters them Retrieving a memory makes it stronger but also can result in a false memory due to the reconstruction process. Psychologists have experimentally implanted false memories.
- Memory is unstable Because a memory is changed by recalling it.
- The foresight bias It is easy to think you will remember something and then forget it minutes later.
- When recall is easy, learning is low The more work you have to do to remember something the better you will remember it and this is why testing improves learning.
- Learning depends heavily on context Learning improves when done in different ways or contexts.
- Memory, reloaded In the long run (but not the short term) both physical and mental learning is improved when interleaving different things rather than one at a time.
- Learning is under your control With knowledge of how memory works, you memory can improve.
For some information about false memories see:
Sun Dec 9 21:30:43 EST 2012
Half-Life of Facts
- half of what physicians thought they knew about liver diseases was wrong or obsolete 45 years later
- a team of researchers over ten years was able to reproduce the results of only six out of 53 landmark papers in preclinical cancer research.
- We persist in only adding facts to our personal store of knowledge that jibe with what we already know, rather than assimilate new facts irrespective of how they fit into our worldview.
- The half-life of a physics paper is on average 13.07 years, in Math it's 9.17 years, and in Psychology it's 7.15.
Sun Dec 2 14:52:00 EST 2012
Items of Interest
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
— by Oliver Burkeman
although extreme insecurity is a bad thing, it provides one huge benefit: you cannot be worried about losing your security if you don't have any to lose in the first place. And worries about becoming insecure do seem to be at the root of a lot of anxiety in western societies.
- Analyzing and refuting pseudoscience and the anti-science movement.
- Documenting the full range of crank ideas.
- Explorations of authoritarianism and fundamentalism.
- Analysis and criticism of how these subjects are handled in the media.
S.H.A.M.E Project: Shame the Hacks who Abuse Media Ethics
The S.H.A.M.E. Media Transparency Project takes the war against corporate trolls and media shills to a new and more effective level. Its goal is to expose corrupt media figures, document journalistic fraud and make life a little harder for covert propagandists who manipulate the public, degrade our democracy and help perpetuate oligarchy power.Sometimes it seems a bit excessive and unfair to me, but still fun to read their takedowns of some big names.
- thoughtfulPersonals.com Free personal ads for people who like the NYT, New Yorker, Harper's, NPR, Atlantic or NYRB
In Technology Wars, Using the Patent as a Sword
— How patents are stifling innovation.
Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings. New York Times, October 7, 2012And this paper (2012-035) from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:
The Case Against Patents by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, September 2012
The case against patents can be summarized briefly:there is no empirical evidence that they serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless the latter is identified with the number of patents awarded – which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity. This is at the root of the “patent puzzle”: in spite of the enormous increase in the number of patents and in the strength of their legal protection we have neither seen a dramatic acceleration in the rate of technological progress nor a major increase in the levels of R&D expenditure ...
Wed Nov 28 15:33:02 EST 2012
Presidential Election Items
Peter Thiel: Austerity Coming, No Matter Who You Vote For (10/08/2012)
Short Bloomberg video with the libertarian/contrarian Peter Thiel about the Presidential race: It might not matter who wins the election Obama & Romney are more similar than people think
- Why do "Third Parties Never Work"? Collusion and the Presidential Debates (10/08/2012) A nice explanation of why the presidential debates are a farce (from Falguni A. Sheth's Translation Exercises blog).
America's duopoly of money in politics and manipulation of public opinion
Charles Ferguson opines in The Guardian that
"behind the divisiveness lies a deeper bipartisan consensus in which
donors own democracy and there are no votes in reform".
And so Obama can avoid all the hard issues and yet retain the grudging support of his base simply by proposing modest tax increases on the wealthy, and by supporting the safety net (unemployment benefits, Medicare, social security) that Romney might cut. Voila: an election in which there are a dozen elephants in the room, and neither candidate pays them any notice at all; an election that Obama can win because he's somewhat less bad, somewhat less utterly bankrupt, than the other guy. Welcome to America's new and improved two-party system.
Why evangelical Christians like Romney? Why civil libertarians like Obama?
(Tom Bissell 09/27/2012)
Because our politics don't necessarily have anything to do with our beliefs. Politics, and presidential politics particularly, are instead dictated by nodes of sympathetic inclination.Mentioned at the end is, iSideWith.com where you can take a political quiz that lets you select your stance on many important issues, allowing you to specify how important they are to you and even letting you choose another position that is not specified. Once completed it tells you which political candidate you side on most issues with. You may be surprised that you didn't vote for the person you most agree with! Maybe voting on issues rather than candidates would give better results?