Fri Feb 28 11:26:05 EST 2014
Items of Interest
Some web links I found to be of interest:
New Poll Shows That Americans Are Losing Faith In God
A new Harris Poll released today reveals that only 74% of Americans believe in God, an 8% decline since 2009.
Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?
The New York Review of Books
I want to stress again that I do not claim that the financial crisis that is still causing so many of us so much pain and despondency was the product, in whole or in part, of fraudulent misconduct. But if it was-as various governmental authorities have asserted it was - then the failure of the government to bring to justice those responsible for such colossal fraud bespeaks weaknesses in our prosecutorial system that need to be addressed.
Why won't the President rein in the intelligence community?
The New Yorker: State of Deception
Wyden, who said that he has had "several spirited discussions" with Obama, is not optimistic. "It really seems like General Clapper, the intelligence leadership, and the lawyers drive this in terms of how decisions get made at the White House," he told me. It is evident from the Snowden leaks that Obama inherited a regime of dragnet surveillance that often operated outside the law and raised serious constitutional questions. Instead of shutting down or scaling back the programs, Obama has worked to bring them into narrow compliance with rules-set forth by a court that operates in secret-that often contradict the views on surveillance that he strongly expressed when he was a senator and a Presidential candidate.
Who's good at forecasts?
Philip Tetlock and Advanced Research Projects Activity forecasting tournaments.
The only reliable method is to conduct a forecasting tournament in which independent judges ask all participants to make the same forecasts in the same timeframes. And forecasts must be expressed numerically, so there can be no hiding behind vague verbiage. Words like "may" or "possible" can mean anything from probabilities as low as 0.001% to as high as 60% or 70%. But 80% always and only means 80%
Criticism of Malcolm Gladwell
The Gladwell pivot
Commentary on the chapter about dyslexia
in Malcolm Gladwell's book David and Goliath
The gripe about Gladwell is his selective use of such information-not letting facts get in the way of a good story. A different story, certainly a more nuanced one, would result if other studies, other personal narratives, other experts had been considered. The average reader is not aware of what has been left out and thus can be easily mislead. His selective use of the research literature turns scientific findings into another form of anecdote. This is particularly bothersome to scientists whose own first commandment is something like: thou shalt address all relevant evidence, not merely the findings that support the most interesting, attention-getting hypothesis.Malcolm Gladwell Is America's Best-Paid Fairy-Tale Writer
But the mix of moralism and scientism is an ever-winning formula, as Gladwell's career demonstrates. Speaking to a time that prides itself on optimism and secretly suspects that nothing works, his books are analgesics for those who seek temporary relief from abiding anxiety. There is more of reality and wisdom in a Chinese fortune cookie than can be found anywhere in Gladwell's pages. But then, it is not reality or wisdom that his readers are looking for.
PBS NOVA Video Blog
Your brain really doesn't remember the things it sees very well. While it might capture certain aspects of the world, it mostly discards the information it processes.
Why Not Immortality?
Communications of the ACM
"Biological systems fail because at some point it's cheaper to make new ones." This is nature's form of cost-benefit analysis. Optimal design balances the marginal benefit of investing in the old versus investing in the new.
Award-winning research site for professionals and family members looking for information on aging, eldercare, and long term care, including information on legal, financial, medical, and housing issues, policy, research, and statistics.
18 Signs Economists Haven't the Foggiest
Unlearning Economics: Criticism of mainstream economists and economics.
... outlining the major reasons why economists can be completely out of touch with their public image, as well as how they should do "science", and why their discipline is so ripe for criticism (most of which they are unaware of).
Mon Jan 27 13:52:22 EST 2014
Crisis in Science
There are currently problems in the way science is being done and reported. Here are some references about the crisis in science that I've run across recently. The problems seem to be most prominent in the area of psychology.
How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science
The incentives offered by top journals distort science,
just as big bonuses distort banking.
Just as Wall Street needs to break the hold of the bonus culture, which drives risk-taking that is rational for individuals but damaging to the financial system, so science must break the tyranny of the luxury journals. The result will be better research that better serves science and society.
Science has lost its way, at a big cost to humanity
Researchers are rewarded for splashy findings, not for double-checking
accuracy. So many scientists looking for cures to diseases have been
building on ideas that aren't even true.
The demand for sexy results, combined with indifferent follow-up, means that billions of dollars in worldwide resources devoted to finding and developing remedies for the diseases that afflict us all is being thrown down a rathole. NIH and the rest of the scientific community are just now waking up to the realization that science has lost its way, and it may take years to get back on the right path.
Weak statistical standards implicated in scientific irreproducibility
One-quarter of studies that meet commonly used statistical cutoff
may be false.
The plague of non-reproducibility in science may be mostly due to scientists' use of weak statistical tests, as shown by an innovative method developed by statistician Valen Johnson, at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Psychologists strike a blow for reproducibility
Thirty-six labs collaborate to check 13 earlier findings.
A large international group set up to test the reliability of psychology experiments has successfully reproduced the results of 10 out of 13 past experiments. The consortium also found that two effects could not be reproduced.
Open Science Framework Reproducibility Project: Psychology
Do normative scientific practices and incentive structures produce a biased body of research evidence? The Reproducibility Project is a crowdsourced empirical effort to estimate the reproducibility of a sample of studies from scientific literature. The project is a large-scale, open collaboration currently involving more than 150 scientists from around the world.
Science and Its Skeptics
There is a crisis in replicability.
Is John Horgan right in being struck by all the "breakthroughs" and "revolutions" that have failed to live up to their hype: string theory and other supposed "theories of everything," self-organized criticality and other theories of complexity, anti-angiogenesis drugs and other potential "cures" for cancer, drugs that can make depressed patients "better than well," "genes for" alcoholism, homosexuality, high IQ and schizophrenia.
Addendum 02/02/2014: Scientific Pride and Prejudice
... science might look for help to the humanities, and to literary criticism in particular.
A major root of the crisis is selective use of data. Scientists, eager to make striking new claims, focus only on evidence that supports their preconceptions. Psychologists call this "confirmation bias": We seek out information that confirms what we already believe. "We each begin probably with a little bias," as Jane Austen writes in "Persuasion," "and upon that bias build every circumstance in favor of it."
Tue Dec 31 21:27:28 EST 2013
Items of Interest
Some web links I found to be of interest:
The Psychiatric Drug Crisis
Despite their continued failure to understand how psychiatric drugs work, doctors continue to tell patients that their troubles are the result of chemical imbalances in their brains. As Frank Ayd pointed out, this explanation helps reassure patients even as it encourages them to take their medicine, and it fits in perfectly with our expectation that doctors will seek out and destroy the chemical villains responsible for all of our suffering, both physical and mental. The theory may not work as science, but it is a devastatingly effective myth.
Richard Posner Explains SEC Refusal to Act in Lehman Brothers Case
Judge Richard Posner in a 1985 Columbia Law Review article wrote:This means that the criminal law is designed primarily for the nonaffluent; the affluent are kept in line, for the most part, by tort law. This may seem to be a left-wing kind of suggestion ("criminal law keeps the lid on the lower classes"), but it is not. It is efficient to use different sanctions depending on an offender's wealth.
Study proves that politics and math are incompatible
People were more likely to solve a problem incorrectly
when it conflicted with their political beliefs
But according to Yale law professor Dan Kahan, it's easier than we think for reasonable people to trick themselves into reaching unreasonable conclusions. Kahan and his team found that, when it comes to controversial issues, people's ability to do math is impacted by their political beliefs.
On being `right' in science
Chris Holdgraf in PLOS Blogs: Diverse Perspectives on Science and Medicine
As an academic, I've often heard that "the facts speak for themselves", or that one need only to "look at the data" in order to see the truth. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that neither of these statements is correct. Facts are always colored by the context in which they are presented, and data can be massaged and molded to tell almost any story you want. And so what if you're correct, if nobody will pay attention to you in the first place?
Life and Death in Assisted Living
ProPublica and PBS Frontline documentary
When things go wrong in assisted living, people can pay with their dignity, and sometimes with their lives.
The Problem with the Neuroscience Backlash
"Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience,"
by Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld
If critics are too pessimistic about what the future holds, they are right about one thing: over the past decade, neuroscience has become overprivileged as a method of examining the mind. Journalists, courts, and sometimes even scientists seem to believe that a brain scan can be more telling than a profile of an individual's behavior. Perhaps as neuroscience progresses, it is possible for objective, physiological assessment of the brain to win out as the ultimate arbiter of truth when it comes to the mind. But that's a long way off, if it ever will be possible at all.
New meta-analysis checks the correlation between intelligence and faith
First systematic analysis of its kind even proposes reasons for the negative correlation.
... if you look at the studies conducted over the past century, you will find that those with religious beliefs will, on the whole, score lower on tests of intelligence.
Wed Nov 13 15:26:26 EST 2013
I have been reading Barry Ritholtz', The Big Picture blog, regularly since 2008 and watching his star rise over the years. However, lately I have found him to be less interesting and not as informative, perhaps because there is little new and I know how he thinks and have already absorbed all he has to say.
But I wonder if like a stock that keeps going up, is Barry Ritholtz approaching bubble status? In addition to his blog and his Washington Post column and his increasing number of media appearances, here are some recent indications from his blog:
Getting Rid of Comments (February 2013)
Back in February 2013, he started censoring comments to his blog. Undoubtedly there were many that deserved it, but I know some did not. For example, comments about publishing all predictions in real time and not just mentioning months later the ones that worked out.
Site Redesign (March 2013)
Seems to me it is all about increasing the number of viewers in order to have more customers who will pay management fees for his investment advice.
- Wealth Management (September 2013)
- Bloomberg column (November 2013)
And similar to the value of a stock in a bubble, what is Barry's value proposition? On the one hand he touts the value of indexing, asset allocation, and low coast ETFs. On the other hand he wants a percent or two to do that for you without presenting any evidence that he can beat the market. Like all the talking heads he gives opinions of what might go up or down, but who can keep track of how that translates into making or losing money? Why do none of the market prognosticators have a public model portfolio with various bond and stock funds and ETFs that show they can do better than a general diversified basket of low cost ETFs with yearly rebalancing? Barry is better than most in that he has some humility, but I fear that as he reaches new heights, the selling of his image will have to grow too.
Thu Oct 31 17:17:07 EDT 2013
When discussing with scientists topics like free will, when/how did the universe begin, does it have an end, what was there before the beginning, etc, they usually disagree with my point of view that these questions are beyond the capabilities of our brains to comprehend. Instead most think it's just a matter of time (albeit maybe a long time) before we can understand everything. It seems obvious to me that this cannot be true, because we and our brains have evolved over time so that we can think and understand things lower animals cannot. But evolution will continue so humans and their brains will no longer be the top rung of the ladder and other species will evolve that can understand things we cannot. Along these line I was glad to see that Lord Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal, expresses similar thoughts in Financial Times Magazine:
"Thinking about life on Earth, most people see us as the culmination but we know the sun is only halfway through its life," he says. "There is no reason to think that we're the culmination. Even if there's no life beyond Earth now, we can imagine a post-human species spreading far beyond Earth. Moreover, any [human] evolution in the future will be on the technological timescale of centuries rather than the Darwinian timescale of millions of years."
. . .
Mind-boggling concepts such as the multiverse, string theory, dark energy, supersymmetry and hidden dimensions of space and time raise the question of whether we can ever grasp the deep realities of nature. Rees thinks not.
"It is remarkable that our brains, which have changed little since our ancestors roamed the African savannah, have allowed us to understand the counterintuitive worlds of the quantum and the cosmos," he says. But there is no reason to think that our comprehension is matched to an understanding of all key features of reality.
"Some of these insights may have to wait for post-human intelligence. There may be phenomena, crucial to our long-term destiny, which we are not aware of -- any more than a monkey comprehends the nature of stars and galaxies."
Thu Sep 19 21:06:15 EDT 2013
Items of Interest
Some web links I found to be of interest:
America No Longer Has a Functioning Judicial System
The Separation of Powers Which Define Our Democracy Have Been Destroyed.
Bush destroyed much of the separation of powers which made our country great. But under Obama, it's gotten worse.
Spying Program Doesn't Make Us Safer and Spying Leaks Don't Harm America
NSA Leaks Help -- Rather than Hurt -- the United States
America's top national security experts say that the NSA's mass surveillance program doesn't make us safer and that whistleblowers revealing the nature and extent of the program don't harm America.
The Tabarrok Curve: Why The Patent System Is Not Fit For Purpose
Dr. Tabarrok argued in his 2011 book "Launching the Innovation Renaissance" that patents cannot encourage innovation if they raise its costs. In fields where innovation is a cumulative process, he argued, restricting patents would cause firms to lose some of their monopoly rights, but they would gain the opportunity to use the innovations of others. "The result is greater total innovation."
Patents are supposed to prevent imitation, but in practice, imitation is often more costly than innovation. Most patent disputes are not about firms copying each other's inventions but about two companies discovering simultaneously the next step in an innovative process. Yet patent law can't easily handle that type of situation.
The Emerging Science of Memes
No one has any idea what makes something go viral in the first place. Attempts to predict what will go viral on the internet are based on the past behavior of a meme. As Coscia emphasizes in his work, no one has yet to rigorously demonstrate, in advance, why any particular type of content goes viral. This sort of prognostication remains an art rather than a science.
The Problem With Psychiatry, the DSM and the Way We Study Mental Illness
Psychiatry is under attack for not being scientific enough, but the real problem is its blindness to culture. When it comes to mental illness, we wear the disorders that come off the rack.
... Americans, for some reason, find it particularly difficult to grasp that mental illnesses are absolutely real and culturally shaped at the same time
Tue Aug 13 22:23:43 EDT 2013
Perpetual Money Machine
US economic policy over the past few decades reminds me of proposals for perpetual motion machines, which are known to be impossible because you can't create something (energy) out of nothing. The laws of thermodynamics say it is impossibled to create energy out of nothing. Similarly for wealth. How can financial manipulations create new wealth out of nothing? John Mauldin in his blog post We Can't Take the Chance under the section A Few Impossible Things" discusses this and what needs to change. Here are some select quotes:
Read the entire section A Few Impossible Things at We Can't Take the Chance.
Wed Jul 31 23:15:08 EDT 2013
Items of Interest
Some web links I found to be of interest:
- How much value does the finance industry create? -- Noah Smith
- Obama's terrorism speech: seeing what you want to see
- The three whoppers of Alan Dershowitz
- My Answer to John Hussman -- Cam Hui
- Luck and Skill Untangled: The Science of Success
- If Companies Are People ... A Fairer Corporate Tax
- Plan your digital afterlife with (google's) Inactive Account Manager
- Disability and Economic Inclusion
Sun Jun 23 20:13:32 EDT 2013
NSA, PRISM and Snowden
In all the discussions related to whistleblower Edward Snowden's
revelations about the NSA and the PRISM surveillance program,
first revealed by
Glen Greenwald in The Guardian,
there are some points I have not seen mentioned
and that I wonder about.
Addendum 06/24/2013: For some clues to possible answers see:The Dirty Little Secret About Mass Surveillance: It Doesn't Keep Us Safe Top National Security Experts: Spying Program Doesn't Make Us Safer, and Spying Leaks Don't Harm America
Mon Jun 10 01:09:09 EDT 2013
So, most predictions we remember are ones which were fabulously, wildly unexpected and then came true. Now, the person who makes that prediction has a strong incentive to remind everyone that they made that crazy prediction which came true. If you look at all the people, the economists, who talked about the financial crisis ahead of time, those guys harp on it constantly. "I was right, I was right, I was right." But if you're wrong, there's no person on the other side of the transaction who draws any real benefit from embarrassing you by bring up the bad prediction over and over. So there's nobody who has a strong incentive, usually, to go back and say, Here's the list of the 118 predictions that were false. And without any sort of market mechanism or incentive for keeping the prediction makers honest, there's lots of incentive to go out and to make these wild predictions.One participant in that podcast is Philip Tetlock whose book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? was reviewed in The New Yorker back in December 2005. A more recent conversation (December 2012) with him can be found on Edge.org: Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), Tetlock is co-leader of The Good Judgment Project, one of five teams competing in the Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE) Program whose aim is to benchmark the accuracy of predictions and discover ways to improve that accuracy by using level playing field forecasting tournaments. To whet your appetite, here are 3 excerpts from the above Edge link.
So, we found three basic things: many pundits were hardpressed to do better than chance, were overconfident, and were reluctant to change their minds in response to new evidence. That combination doesn't exactly make for a flattering portrait of the punditocracy.
. . . One of the reactions to my work on expert political judgment was that it was politically naive; I was assuming that political analysts were in the business of making accurate predictions, whereas they're really in a different line of business altogether. They're in the business of flattering the prejudices of their base audience and they're in the business of entertaining their base audience and accuracy is a side constraint. They don't want to be caught in making an overt mistake so they generally are pretty skillful in avoiding being caught by using vague verbiage to disguise their predictions.
. . . The long and the short of the story is that it's very hard for professionals and executives to maintain their status if they can't maintain a certain mystique about their judgment. If they lose that mystique about their judgment, that's profoundly threatening. My inner sociologist says to me that when a good idea comes up against entrenched interests, the good idea typically fails. But this is going to be a hard thing to suppress. Level playing field forecasting tournaments are going to spread. They're going to proliferate. They're fun. They're informative. They're useful in both the private and public sector. There's going to be a movement in that direction. How it all sorts out is interesting. To what extent is it going to destabilize the existing pundit hierarchy? To what extent is it going to destabilize who the big shots are within organizations?