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

Friday, August 31, 2007

Genes vs. Mountains

One potential argument against open access (or to electronic journals in general) is that many copies of a dead-tree journal will be printed but there might be only one version on the Web. I disagree. There's no reason why there can't be many mirrors for an electronic journal. Even if one computer crashes or one CD disintegrates, the journal will have been copied to many other systems.

You can think of the durability of paper journals as analogous to the durability of mountains. It takes time for a collection of atoms to fall apart. Similarly, the durability of electronic journals is analogous to the durability of genes. They're renedered immortal by having copies made.

There are collections of genes billions of years old. Mountains of the same age have been worn down to stubs.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Is Open Acess Incompatible with Profit?

It's possible to make money staging Shakespeare's plays even though those plays have been in the public domain for centuries.

It's possible to make money publishing dictionaries even though nobody owns the English language.

There are profit-making publishers that are, at least partly, open access.

Is the Astroturf Assumption Circular?

I'm sure my fellow wingnuts have encountered leftists who assume that anybody on the right side of the political spectrum is a corporate shill or part of an “astroturf campaign.” (This accusation has even been made when totally ridiculous.) Now that I can see a real example of an astroturf campaign I also notice that I had never heard of the organizations involved until the controversy started. Maybe the astroturf assumption is circular. First, the opponents assume that anybody on the right side of the political spectrum is a corporate shill. They then look only at campaigns run by major corporations and find lots of such corporate shills.

It looks like the corporate campaigns are in a parallel universe to the normal right-wing blogsphere. The National Anxiety Center, for example, is not on the blog roll of Instapundit, Little Green Footballs, or Samizdata. It's only noticed by other corporate shills and by leftists.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

If You're Fed up with Academic Science

If you're one of the people PRISM is hoping to recruit (discussed here), you should support open access. Please remember that everything you're suspicious about, from the Lancet study of casualties in Iraq to the “hockey-stick” graph, were published under the old system. They would still be published in an open-access system but in an open-access system, you can be sure of getting contrary data out.

For example, according to an editorial page article in The Wall Street Journal on global warming:

But that faith is tested when leading climate scientists won't share the data they use to estimate temperatures past and present and thus construct all-important trend lines. This was true of climatologist Michael Mann, who refused to disclose the algorithm behind his massively influential "hockey stick" graph, which purported to demonstrate a sharp uptick in global temperatures over the past century. (The accuracy of the graph was seriously discredited by Mr. McIntyre and his colleague Ross McKitrick.) This was true also of Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, who reportedly turned down one request for information with the remark, "Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?"
If a mole is able to obtain the data, he could publish it in an open-access system. When copyright laws become too strong, it might be possible to use them to shut off access.

This is not a straw-man argument. It really happened in the case of the Church of Scientology's attempt to keep secrets. We must also recall that Mark Kurlansky was extremely offended by the thought of conservatives reading his books.

Addendum: It's been done. We reactionaries have started using open access.

The Game Plan in Opposition to Open Access

It's becoming clear that the opponents of Open Access (earlier discussed here) are planning to create a coalition of people fed up with what they imagine to be academic science. This will include rational components (proponents of nuclear power or DDT) and irrational components (creationists and protectionists). It will be based on the most bizarre success of the left: the widespread opinion that leftist intellectual is a redundant term.

For example, Bryan Caplan was recently mistaken for a central planner by a Ron Paul supporter, a mistake that's downright surreal. If the anti-open side succeeds, anybody with a graduate degree will be portrayed as suspect. An essential component of the plan is to get as many people p___ed off as possible at arrogant leftists. That might explain Pat Schroeder's execise in arrogance. The American Association of Publishers stands to gain from the annoyance.

There might be some trouble in reconciling the factions. After all, if somebody pro-nuclear points out that there was a natural nuclear fission reaction on Earth two billion years ago, the young-Earth creationists will object. On the other hand, the noted flack Alan Caruba (who I hadn't heard of until this controversy started even despite the fact that some of his presumed ideas are up my alley) used eugenics as an example of erroneous academic science, even though that might offend possible recruits among believers in “human biodiversity” so they might ignore a faction or two.

The really bad news is that now leftists will be able to point to a real conspiracy that some of us reactionary crackpots will be allied with. The good news is that we can use support for open access as a shield against conspiracy theories.

Maybe I'd better start a series of pro-open access posts …

Essential disclaimer: I work for a contractor for the NIH open-access project. If you're an author of one of those articles and you complain about the mathematics, the complaint might turn up at my desk.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Why Did the South Turn Republican?

According to the usual claim by the Enlightened Ones, it's because the Republicans sold out and started using racist “code words.” (By the way, is the term “code words” a couple of code words?) Matthew Yglesias (seen via Megan McArdle) offers a slightly different theory, that the Democrats became less racist:

The dam began to crack with Harry Truman, and then under Lyndon Johnson the national party decisively broke with this corrupt bargain. With that done, white southerners just took their conservative views on taxes and national security into the Republican Party where such views belonged. Racism is a key part of the story, but it plays a much bigger role in explaining why Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy won South Carolina than in explaining why Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush won there.
This theory ran into lots of opposition in the comments. Some of the comments consisted of repeating the standard theory loudly and slowly, but others actually brought up a fact or two. For example, the South of a century ago was strongly anti-capitalist. (We still see some of that in the preposterous decisions of Southern juries.)

My theory, for whatever it's worth, is that White Southerners spent a century telling each other that they weren't really racist, they were just defending themselves and property rights against liberal/communist agitators. After a century of that, their pretenses had become real. I'm reminded of a well-known quote from Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut:

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Market Failure and Linguistic Failure

According to the Coyote blogger:

One of the great things about modern English is that it is bottom-up and open-source.  Years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary took the approach of documenting what English is, rather than the French approach of dictating what the language should be.  As a result, the language evolves based on how ordinary people are using it.  Which is perhaps why the word in many languages for new trends and technologies is often the English word (much to the consternation of the French).
The same reasoning that appears to show that central planning could lessen “market failure” applies just as well to linguistic failure.

On the other hand, setting up a centrally-planned language is obviously preposterous … or maybe “doubleplusungood” would be a better term.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What I Tell You Three Times Is False

I've noticed that the most obvious scams (for example, “send us your money and we promise to eliminate your debt!”) advertised on the radio almost always mention the phone number to call three times. That hardly ever happens in ads for plausibly-legitimate businesses. I suppose the target audience is people who can't remember anything.

Speaking of Creationists …

I predict that creationists (the irrational side of the right wing) will react to artificial life by saying that it proves that life was artificial from the beginning. Unlike Pharyngula, I doubt if they will have any trouble with the attempt to “wrap their little minds around artificial life.”

Similarly, the rational side of the right wing will have no trouble with male pregnancy. We will simply point out that abortion still won't be a sacrament and that that disproves a common pro-“choice” slogan.

Pat Scroeder Pats Herself on the Back

Pat Schroeder has reacted to the news that a survey has indicated that a slightly greater percentage of self-identified conservatives have not read a book in the past year than self-identified liberals with an expected amount of self congratulation:

"The Karl Roves of the world have built a generation that just wants a couple slogans: 'No, don't raise my taxes, no new taxes,'" Pat Schroeder, president of the American Association of Publishers, said in a recent interview. "It's pretty hard to write a book saying, 'No new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes' on every page."
My take on this, for whatever it's worth, is that the “conservatives” include people who belong on the left but aren't bright enough to figure that out. For example, creationists clearly belong in a political movement that takes central planning seriously. Similarly, anti-immigration activists who base their opposition on economic grounds belong with other people who believe in either Malthusianism or the “lump of labor” fallacy.

On the other hand, this may be a consequence of the fact that conservatives have more children than liberals. They just don't have time to read.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Consistent Multiculturalism

Pointless apologies are no longer limited to Western Civilization.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Leftist Establishment Is Older Than You Think

Instapundit quotes Spook Country:

Cultural Marxism was what other people called political correctness, according to Brown, but it was really cultural Marxism and had come to the United States from Germany, after World War II, in the cunning skulls of a clutch of youngish professors from Frankfurt. The Frankfurt School, as they'd called themselves, had wasted no time in plunging their intellectual ovipositors repeatedly into the unsuspecting body of old-school American academia. Milgrim always enjoyed this part; it had an appealing vintage sci-fi campiness to it, staccato and exciting, with grainy Eurocommie star-spawn in tweed jackets and knit ties, breeding like Starbucks.
Wait a moment … Collectivism had already become entrenched in the United States by the 1930s. The process had started with the “Progressive” era. (You can think of the “Progressive” era as a time when a self-styled elite tried to turn the United States into a fake European nation.) The standards of the 1930s said “these people are the wave of the future” and that turned them from mere cranks into the shapers of young minds.

The Cultural Marxists may have even been beneficial. They gave leftist ideas that were formerly acceptable to the American public a foreign taint. (The sort of voter who might be prejudiced against “the rich” was even more prejudiced against anything foreign.) It's worth noting that they became loud enough to be heard by voters in the late 1960s, the time when increasing socialism started to slow. The tenured radicals achieved something resembling actual power in time to see Reagan halt their version of progress and Clinton to reverse parts of it.

The more they tightened their grip, the more we slipped through their fingers …

Addendum: For another take on the Progressive Era, see here.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster …

… has a rival.

Are Extraterrestrials Visiting This Planet?

That's the best explanation for the lack of resemblence of the following to reality:

Nonetheless, the one-out-of-four Americans who cling to the failed policies of the past seven years still have a couple of arrows in their quiver. Like almost everyone who writes progressive political commentary on a regular basis, I get my share of hate mail, and the arrows that come my way these days are rather limited in the range of their retorts. They are arrows dipped in the poison of homophobia, like the responses I received in answer to a piece I'd written about Joseph Wilson, husband to the outed CIA agent, Valerie Plame.


The other arrow left in the right wing quiver is the rather defective shaft that answers any criticism of Bush by responding with increasingly irrelevant golden-oldie attacks on Bill Clinton. When Bush corruption hits the news, Bush partisans bring up Whitewater. When the war is going badly, they say there wouldn't have been a war if Clinton had gotten bin Laden, ignoring the fact that bin Laden remains free all these years into the Bush regime.

And, when just about any other inconvenient truth hits the front pages, the Bush apologists trot out Monica Lewinsky.

Speaking as a right-wing blogger, I have never blogged a accusation of homosexuality. I have used the “insult Clinton as a response to opposition to Bush” meme exactly once. Come to think of it, I've even defended Bill Clinton on occasion.

It's amazing how long I can blog without using those two remaining arrows.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Israeli Statism RIP?

According to Zionist Youngster commenting at The Gates of Vienna, there's an increasing tendency in Israel of avoiding government solutions to problems.

This might explain why American Jews still vote Democratic. Most of the sensible Jews went to Israel.

We Need a Manhattan Project to Solve Global Warming

According to Robert Samuelson:

Consider a 2006 study from the International Energy Agency. With present policies, it projected that carbon-dioxide emissions (a main greenhouse gas) would more than double by 2050; developing countries would account for almost 70 percent of the increase. The IEA then simulated an aggressive, global program to cut emissions based on the best available technologies: more solar, wind and biomass; more-efficient cars, appliances and buildings; more nuclear. Under this admitted fantasy, global emissions in 2050 would still slightly exceed 2003 levels.
It sounds like we'll need another Manhattan Project to make fossil fuels obsolete. Wait a moment … We had a Manhattan Project that could make fossil fuels obsolete. It was called the Manhattan Project.

By the way, why do these alleged studies persist in minimizing nuclear energy? (I've had earlier criticisms of minimizing nukes here, there, and over yonder.)

Debate Wanted

A debate between Stephen Metcalf and Tim Slagle on what part of the political spectrum has a a higher percentage of geeks might be called for.

In any case, I've explained why geeks should be libertarian: We must make sure that the mundanes have as little power as possible.

I must admit to being tempted by the thought of having anti-nuclear activists tried for treason to humanity …

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Two Levels of Improbability

On the Freakonomics blog, Steve Levitt is asking for possible ideas for terrorist attacks we should be prepared for. He also points out that an attack will probably not affect a specific individual can also create terror:

Hearing about these rules got me thinking about what I would do to maximize terror if I were a terrorist with limited resources. I'd start by thinking about what really inspires fear. One thing that scares people is the thought that they could be a victim of an attack. With that in mind, I'd want to do something that everybody thinks might be directed at them, even if the individual probability of harm is very low. Humans tend to overestimate small probabilities, so the fear generated by an act of terrorism is greatly disproportionate to the actual risk.
They can compound the probabilities by picking an attack that causes a 0.1% probability of affecting 0.1% of the American public. A “dirty-bomb” attack may be ideal. One advantage of a “dirty-bomb” attack is that it might provoke regulations that hamper the replacement of imported oil with nuclear energy.

This also shows that letting innumerate left-wing Luddites set the public agenda could make a terrorist attack more effective and therefore more likely. Those ex-hippies aren't as harmless as they look.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Brief Note on the Mine Collapse

If we got more coal from strip mines, this would be less likely to happen.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

How Rupert Murdoch Might Change The Wall Street Journal

I think he's more likely to change the style than the content of the Journal. For example, it will still run articles arguing that an economy that isn't centrally planned is more likely to produce economic growth with no known limit. On the other hand, such an article is likely to have the headline:


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Do Changes in the Understanding of Religion Mean a Defeat of Religion?

According to Eliezer Yudkowsky, the changes in the way religion is understood are a retreat:

Back in the old days, people actually believed their religions instead of just believing in them.  The biblical archaeologists who went in search of Noah's Ark did not think they were wasting their time; they anticipated they might become famous.  Only after failing to find confirming evidence - and finding disconfirming evidence in its place - did religionists execute what William Bartley called the retreat to commitment, "I believe because I believe."

Back in the old days, there was no concept of religion being a separate magisterium.  The Old Testament is a stream-of-consciousness culture dump: history, law, moral parables, and yes, models of how the universe works.  In not one single passage of the Old Testament will you find anyone talking about a transcendent wonder at the complexity of the universe.  But you will find plenty of scientific claims, like the universe being created in six days (which is a metaphor for the Big Bang), or rabbits chewing their cud and grasshoppers having four legs.  (Which is a metaphor for...)

Back in the old days, saying the local religion "could not be proven" would have gotten you burned at the stake.  One of the core beliefs of Orthodox Judaism is that God appeared at Mount Sinai and said in a thundering voice, "Yeah, it's all true."  From a Bayesian perspective that's some darned unambiguous evidence of a superhumanly powerful entity.  (Albeit it doesn't prove that the entity is God per se, or that the entity is benevolent - it could be alien teenagers.)  The vast majority of religions in human history - excepting only those invented extremely recently - tell stories of events that would constitute completely unmistakable evidence if they'd actually happened.  The orthogonality of religion and factual questions is a recent and strictly Western concept.  The people who wrote the original scriptures didn't even know the difference.

In related news, I've recently been trying to think of how to explain non-Euclidean geometry (or, what's worse, Cantorian set theory) to ancient Greek mathematicians. Is today's mathematics the same as their mathematics? After all, ancient Greek geometry made falsifiable claims about Earth measurements.

When considering whether change means the original idea is gone, I'm reminded of the following story about Fermi:

Enrico Fermi once attended Robert Oppenheimer's students' seminar - and couldn't understand a word of it. He was cheered by the last sentence however: "...and this is Fermi's theory of beta decay."
and a similar story about Galois Theory:
When Emil Artin taught Galois Theory, he did apparently discuss Galois's own approach. He tells an anecdote to the effect that he asked one of his classes how much of his book on the subject Galois himself would have recognized, and one of his students suggested that probably the title would have been the only recognizable thing in the whole book. And then another student said, "No, he probably would say, 'Okay, Galois, that's me, but who's this guy Theory?' "

By the way, grasshoppers do have four legs. They also have two other legs.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Is This a Rerun?

This warning looks frightening until we compare it with a nearly-identical warning from two years ago. (Also see this.)

I'm reminded of P.D.Q. Bach's motto: “If something didn't sound right the first time, say it again louder.”

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I Give Up

I've been trying to come up with an appropriate response to this post and failing. It's a standard denunciation of politicized science in this administration that sounds fairly reasonable up to the last sentence:

I encourage everyone to sign the Union of Concerned Scientists petition to restore scientific integrity to government agencies.
They're appealing to one of the leading anti-nuclear organizations to … restore scientific integrity to government agencies?


What is a suitable response? “I know you are but what am I?” is hackneyed. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” is even lamer. Comparing this to a petition by Scientologists in favor of free thought might do.

Maybe I'll come up with something after the steam stops pouring out my ears.

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