Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Life Imitates Soc.History.What-If

A few years ago, there was a discussion on the Usenet group soc.history.what-if on Alternate Kooks: The Nuclear Weapon Deniers, an obvious parody of Holocaust deniers:

>> Read the first, original and unadulterated testimonies of
>>witnesses of the Hiroshima " nuclear bombing" . You will not
>>find any mention of " mushroom-shaped cloud". And this is
>>the first ( but most glaring) of the many deviations from
>>the standard nuclar dogma.  
>>In fact, read the testimony about Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo bombings -
>>and you will find that they are too distressingly similar  - perhaps
>>because they describe the same class of events - an unprovoked mass
>>murder of workers by fire and explosives, not nonexistant and impossible "nuclar weapons"  
> [more bullshit snipped]
> If the nuclear weapons are impossible, why not only Masonic America, but
>Soviet Union, France, Britain, China and all other powers build them?

So you have swallowed also the Cold War lie. No surprise.

If the " nykes" are so powerful and undefeatabel, why they
WERE NOT USED in 50 years? Not even only once?

In Korea, Vietnam, Gulf and any other war, one of the
marvelous devices could save thousands of American soldiers.
But the government refused to use them. This is TREASON.

Do you believe that ALL presidents since Truman were

But not only America- according to your dogma, Britin,
Frace, Russia, Chian , Isreal,  India, Pakistan and North
Korea have a large supplise of these things - and let them
lie idle? 
Yes. That's a good imitation of a Usenet debate, misspellings and all.

The fictional kooks of that discussion turned out to be real:

Okay, so we’ve seen a lot of really stupid and downright crazy conspiracy theories in the past. Many have claimed the moon landings were a big hoax and others claim that the entire Cold War was staged by a secret underground group that actually ran both the US and Soviet Union. Given the huge amount of evidence to prove those events independently, it seems a bit far fetched.

But it looks like they’ve been beaten. There are at least a couple wackos out there who claim that nuclear weapons are a hoax. Yes, they say nuclear weapons just plain don’t exist and beyond that, nuclear fission is not real. Yes, that’s right. There no nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki, the Manhattan project never created a viable weapon and all the thousands of tests conducted by the US, Soviet Union, China, France, the UK and others were just elaborate fakes - at least that’s what some actually believe.

My father told me that there is no opinion so preposterous that someone hasn't published a book claiming it. I don't know if that was true then but, thanks to the Web, it is true now.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What Is the Superlative of Pointless?

There is a solar-powered tanning salon. (Seen via the January issue of First Things, although the Airheads noticed it first.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Explaining the Avatar Ecosystem

According to Tam of View from the Porch, the ETs in Avatar don't match the rest of the ecosystem:

The thing that was most jarring to me about Avatar is something that will probably stand out like a sore thumb to any other SF geek: The aliens themselves.


Now go look at all the big critters in Avatar: They're all hexapedal, or six-limbed. They tend to multiple visual organs. Their breathing orifices, separate from their mouths, are located low and forward in their torsos...

Not the alien people, the Na'Vi, however. They're just big blue humans with tails and slightly feline features.


Egalitarian, monogamous, recyclers who love Gaia... how alien is that? These people work at my local organic grocer's. I've met more foreign subcultures in midtown Atlanta.

There's an obvious explanation: Greenpeace refugees went to a previously uninhabited planet and genetically engineered their descendants to look like Hollywood extraterrestrials.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Now That We Have a White Christmas Here …

… I can see Irving Berlin was nuts. This season isn't improved at all by having mounds of frozen dihydrogen monoxide all over the place.

Could we have a little more global warming please?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

That Health-Insurance Bill and the Bailouts

If the proposed health-insurance bill causes insurers to come close to bankruptcy (which Richard Epstein says is possible), I predict the left side of the political spectrum will claim that anything done to prevent that is “just another bailout” and that proves that “free-enterprise” is a code word for government action on behalf of capitalists.

These are the same people who claimed that loan-guarantees in reaction to nuclear utility bankruptcies caused by regulatory delays in an inflationary environment were subsidies and, in accordance with the tactic of “make the enemy live up to his book of rules,” had to be rejected by capitalists.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

About that “Hockey Stick”

If today's weather on the east coast had anything to do with a hockey stick, it must have been from ice hockey.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Where Are the Lungs?

Public Option Please recently ran a contest for the best poster in favor of the public option in health care. The winning entry is below:

The above poster appears to be based on the theory that Washington regenerates the resources needed by the rest of the United States the way the heart can supply the rest of the body with oxygen-rich blood. One problem is that the heart does not do so by itself but instead sends the blood through the lungs. Where are the lungs in the above poster? In order to be accurate, there would have to be more blood vessels going through a taxpayer's wallet.

Advice for Romney

If Romney runs for governor of Massachusetts in 2010, wins, and dismantles Romneycare, he'll be a shoo-in for President in 2012.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advice for Little Green Footballs

If you want to maintain some continuity with your blog of a few years ago, you might try a defense of the pro-warming side of the climate-research community in the form of a paraphrase of Colonel Jessep's speech in A Few Good Men. (After all, that was also about the reaction to a whistle blower.) If might start out “You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has climate, and that climate has to be analyzed by scientists with statistics. Whose gonna do it? You? Rush Limbaugh? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for the coal miners, and you curse the environmentalists. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know…”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If There Is a Pro-Fossil-Fuel Conspiracy

The left side of the political spectrum is full of conspiracy theories claiming that the “global-warming deniers” are carrying out the agenda of fossil-fuel interests. If that's the case, you would expect to find lots of anti-nuclear memes on the right side of the spectrum but they seem to be rare there. We wingnuts are divided between those of us in favor of nukes and those of us who ignore the nukes.

The only exceptions are the memes of “nuclear energy would be nice but it's politically impossible in the United States” and “if there is even one serious accidents, no more nukes will be built.” The only real data for the first amounts to the fact that the experts are told the people are against nukes and the people are told the experts are against nukes. No data is cited for the second and it is contrary to actual experience with other technologies. Maybe we should try tracing those memes and find out where they came from and how much the originators were paid by OPEC.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Less Wrong vs. XKCD

From Less Wrong:

The short answer: It's very much like how a few minutes of philosophical reflection trump a few millennia of human cultural tradition.

A possible reaction from the mouse-over text of the latest XKCD:
I mean, what's more likely -- that I have uncovered fundamental flaws in this field that no one in it has ever thought about, or that I need to read a little more? Hint: it's the one that involves less work.

Addendum: It looks like that XKCD hit a nerve.

Addendum II: How far can we take this recursion?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When Natural and Supernatural Mean the Same Thing

There is another clear example (besides focusing attention) of a phenomenon that can be described using both natural and supernatural language. The 18th chapter of the Book of Leviticus uses supernatural language. The same ideas can be expressed in natural language using the tag-line of the Darwin Catholic blog:

Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.
This is not limited to Catholics but even applies to some of us Red-Sea pedestrians.

I'm mentioning this because the 18th chapter of the Book of Leviticus (and similar religious texts) is used as an excuse for God-bashing among atheists. The problems they're complaining about are simply part of reality.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

God vs. Satan, Explaining the Results

A few years ago, I wrote:

On the one hand, there was Jack Parsons, a follower of the satanist Aleister Crowley, who was trying to create titanic explosions. On the other hand, other scientists not that far away were also trying to create titanic explosions based on the theories of Albert Einstein, a follower of the uncompromising monotheist Baruch Spinoza.

I think God won that round. God's explosions outclassed Satan's.

More recently, M. Simon of Classical Values wrote about Crowley's “Magick”:

In my experience it is a mixed bag. About 1/2 get it. i.e. the exercises are to focus the body and mind. You sill have to do the work. Or as the Zen folks like to say: chop wood and carry water.


It is a matter of attention. Total attention.

If what is called supernatural is a matter of focusing your attention, the lesson from God's explosions outclassing Satan's is that if you focus your attention on “causing Change to occur in conformity with Will” you might achieve your goals. If you focus your attention on finding out what the real world is like, you might find things that make your earlier goals seem trivial.

Query about Aleister Crowley: Was he actually a parodist? He might have started out by writing over-the-top parodies of occultism (in which absolutely everything could be called occult) only to find that people took his bullbleep seriously. He then found that being a cult leader paid better than being a comedian…

Come to think of it, maybe something similar happened to L. Ron Hubbard…

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Even Green Cranks Are Inspired by the CRU Data Release

The cranks apparently trying to exploit the CRU data release (phenomenon mentioned briefly here and discussed at length by Orac) include an anti-nuclear activist (seen via Energy from Thorium):

Perhaps it’s not surprising that women and people of color would have more trouble accepting the beneficence of the white male-dominated industrial order?

Nuclear proponents have failed to grasp that all the studies about nuclear safety in the world don’t mean a thing to the people who don’t believe that the books are honest and uncooked. Instead, nuclear fans just keep saying, “Trust us, it’s safe!” in different ways.

In other words, they're pretending that the data available in freaking textbooks doesn't exist and that Geiger counters don't exist.

I don't think it's a coincidence that this surfaced a few weeks after the CRU data release.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Battle Lines in the CRU Data Release Debate

On one side, the claim is that the data butchery and opinion suppression revealed make the standard claims about global warming look dubious.

On the other side, the claim is that this is standard scientific procedure. It's apparently normal to find hacked statistics and narrow mindedness in scientific research.

On the gripping hand, according to the well-known paper Why Most Published Research Findings Are False:

There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false. The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. In this essay, I discuss the implications of these problems for the conduct and interpretation of research.
Of course, the above finding might be one of the erroneous results. We also see at Less Wrong:

Parapsychology, the control group for science, would seem to be a thriving field with "statistically significant" results aplenty.  Oh, sure, the effect sizes are minor.  Sure, the effect sizes get even smaller (though still "statistically significant") as they collect more data.  Sure, if you find that people can telekinetically influence the future, a similar experimental protocol is likely to produce equally good results for telekinetically influencing the past.  Of which I am less tempted to say, "How amazing!  The power of the mind is not bound by time or causality!" and more inclined to say, "Bad statistics are time-symmetrical."  But here's the thing:  Parapsychologists are constantly protesting that they are playing by all the standard scientific rules, and yet their results are being ignored - that they are unfairly being held to higher standards than everyone else.  I'm willing to believe that.  It just means that the standard statistical methods of science are so weak and flawed as to permit a field of study to sustain itself in the complete absence of any subject matter.  With two-thirds of medical studies in prestigious journals failing to replicate, getting rid of the entire actual subject matter would shrink the field by only 33%. We have to raise the bar high enough to exclude the results claimed by parapsychology under classical frequentist statistics, and then fairly and evenhandedly apply the same bar to the rest of science.


In that case, should any scientific results be trusted at all? According to Orac, a substantial fraction of kooks have used the CRU release as an excuse for general skepticism. I can think of two criteria for trustworthy scientific results.

  • First, a scientific theory that has been accepted for a while is usually only replaced by a theory which contains the earlier theory as a special case. For example, modern astronomical theories can explain why Ptolemaic astronomy produced reasonable results.
  • Second, a scientific theory that has been linked to a large number of types of facts (especially if those facts come from outside the theory and have led to working devices) is more likely to be right. For example, someone skeptical of Einstein's Theory of Relativity has to explain how those bombs explode. Someone skeptical of quantum mechanics has to explain how semiconductors work.

Let's analyze the Global Warming controversy using the above. The theoretical results that indicated that sufficient accumulation of CO2 might lead to an uncomfortable climates have been around for almost a century and the general outlines have been rather well checked, even if some of the exact details are disputed. On the other hand, it's hard to use them to get hysterical since they indicate it's a long-term problem and won't get serious until long after the last internal-combustion engine is in a museum. On the gripping hand, the experimental results that are used as the basis for hysterical regulations (aka the “hockey stick”) have not been around long enough to be properly checked. In addition, we only have to explain away one time series (which might be due to solar changes).

Now let's analyze evolution (as an example of something criticized by cranks) using the above. Darwin's explanation has not only been around for over a century but it even outlasted two temporary fads that might have counteracted it. (Socialist economics might have meant that order can only be imposed by central planning and Freud's psychology might have meant that large parts of human psychology are non-adaptive.) In addition, someone trying to explain away evolution has to explain away fossil evidence, biochemical evidence, radioactive-dating evidence, and the theoretical results that indicated genetic algorithms can produce non-trivial results.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Another Way to Understand a Biblical Quote

The phrase “God made man in His own image.” is usually understood as an example of human exceptionalism (if you're in favor) or arrogance (if you're opposed). There's another way to look at it. Maybe it means “Don't get too proud; you're only a copy.”

Are Canadians Sabotaging Global Warming Cooperation?

According to George Monbiot, they are.

We should not be surprised. Considering their climate, they're probably in favor of global warming.

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