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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The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
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Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
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Yet another weird SF fan

Saturday, February 26, 2011


It turns out there is a technical medical (or at least quack) term for having one's head up one's …

Seen via a comment at Depleted Cranium.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Unbelievable News

An economist admitted being wrong.

Maybe economics can now climb the science hierarchy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

News You Can Use

Now, a dim, incoherent knowledge of science is available to anyone.

In other words, Science Made Stupid (and also Cvltvre Made Stvpid) by Tom Weller are both online.

You can go through the Wonderful Invention Checklist (p. 73 of Science Made Stupid) and see which ones are here. (Do Roombas count as household robots?)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Effect of a Transparent Society

At Chicago Boyz, they're worried about the combination of face-recognition software and social-media aggregation. This can be used defensively as well as offensively.

For example, if union goons surround your house (earlier discussed here) or slash your tires, we will soon know who they are.

Even if they're wearing hoods, we can use gait recognition (paid for by the Ministry of Silly Walks). A few years from now we might be able to use odor as well.

As a bonus, we will also be able to find runaway legislators … and anybody using Twitter to send death threats (there's bound to be somebody that dumb).

Hmmm… Right after the World-Trade-Center attack there were videos of people celebrating on the West Bank. Maybe the face-recognition software could be applied to them…

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Future Jeopardy Show?

Cyc vs. Watson.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Paging Epimenides

A recent meta-analysis of meta-analyses (seen via Less Wrong and Metamodern) found that most meta-analyses were of very low quality:

Of the 145 systematic reviews we found, fewer than half met each quality criterion; 49% reported study flow, 27% assessed gray literature, 2% abstracted sponsorship of individual studies, and none abstracted the disclosure of conflict of interest by the authors of individual studies. Planned, formal internal quality evaluation of included studies was reported in 37% of systematic reviews. The journal of publication, topic of review, sponsorship, and conflict of interest were not associated with better quality. Odds of formal internal quality evaluation (odds ratio [OR], 1.10 per year; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.02-1.19) and either planned, formal internal quality evaluation or abstraction of quality criteria of included studies (OR, 1.17 per year; 95% CI, 1.08-1.26) increased over time, without positive trends in other quality criteria from 1990 through June 2008. Systematic reviews with internal quality evaluation did not meet other quality criteria more often than those that ignored the quality of included studies.
If this is true, we can't trust it.

The Consensus Has Spoken

All Hail the Consensus!

For the past few decades, we've been told that burning fossil fuels that emit CO2 is an Intolerable Burden on Future Generations (frequently from people who also tell us not to produce future generations). For some reason, they have not been that eager to quantify the damage. Now, at long last, we have a figure on how much damage that CO2 does. According to the consensus, the Social Cost of Carbon is $21 per ton of CO2. That's $1 per day for Americans. That's it.

Needless to say, this has produced whining in some quarters. Apparently, we're supposed to believe the consensus unless it's useless for the plan to bring down Western civilization.

Meanwhile, we can publish a guide book, “Destroying the Planet on $1 a Day.”

On the other hand, just in case the high-end estimate of the Social Cost of Carbon ($321 per ton) is accurate, that amounts to around $40 per barrel of oil, a livable (but painful) amount. What's more, a carbon tax of $321 per ton will not only be enough to make nukes economically unbeatable, it will be enough to make nukes politically unbeatable as well.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Where the Drunks Aren't

According to this chart, Norway has one of the lowest alcohol-consumption rates in Europe. That should not surprise us. After all, it's well known that Norse is Norse and souse is souse and never the twain shall meet.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Precedents That Aren't

In some quarters, the news of Watson's win on Jeopardy is described along the lines of “Just as Deep Blue made humans obsolete in chess, Watson is making humans obsolete in general.” For example:

IBM's Deep Blue beat the world chess champion in 1997. In that narrow field, by that narrow definition, a Singularity happened then. No big deal. We could comfort ourselves that a computer could never beat us in a contest of general knowledge.


Either way, something important just happened... another Singularity like 1997, but of much greater consequence. It's rare that I need chess advice. But general knowledge advice? I could use that constantly.

There's a minor problem with the above analysis. Humans aren't obsolete in chess. A human–machine combination can beat both unaided humans and unaided machines. There are even Advanced-Chess tournaments, in which the players are human–machine teams.

There is a problem with an analogous Advanced Jeopardy. Jeopardy, as presently played, requires fast reactions … one reason Watson won. I suspect a human–machine combination would have even slower reaction times than humans. On the other hand, this can be fixed:

Indeed a totally fair contest would not have buzzing in time competition at all, and just allow all players who buzz in to answer an get or lose points based on their answer. (Answers would need to be in parallel.)

Addendum: Futurisms has more reasons Deep Blue was not a precedent for Watson.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Skeptical Inquirer on Positive Consequences of Global Warming

In the latest issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, there's a list of Ten Possible Positive Consequences of Global Warming (also discussed here). Item #3 sounds familiar:

3.) Inner city neighborhoods will finally have access to formerly exclusive beachfront property.
That might be because I came up with something similar to it several years ago:
The best-case scenario: I can move into a sea-side home in Patterson, NJ and swim in a nice warm ocean whenever I want.
I'm more than a bit annoyed at item #8:
8.) There will be an end of mundane, out-of-date species and the creation of new mind-blowing mutations.
Is the idea that since global warming is bad for the environment and radioactivity is bad for the environment, global warming will have the same effects as radioactivity?

This is likely to convince anybody who knows something about nuclear power but is undecided about global warming that AGW is simply another idiotic idea from Luddites trying to collapse civilization.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is Academia Discriminating against Conservatives?

I doubt it. In order to discriminate against conservatives, they would have to recognize conservatives and I don't think they're able to do that. I've frequently heard people claim that I'm not a “real conservative” (I don't drag my knuckles enough).

My usual assumption is that many cases of what appear to be discrimination are instances of self selection. This can explain the political skew of faculties, even Ivy-League faculties. I see no reason to change my mind.


While looking for comments about The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov (earlier discussed here), I found the following:

In swapping Eternity for Infinity, time travel is expressly rejected in favour of space travel. One change is made—and not one that would be made today to bring about a brighter future! They give the people of the primitive era of 1932 a hint about atomics, which of course will lead to mankind going to the stars at the earliest possible opportunity. It’s hardly possible to read this in 2010 with the same optimism as readers did in 1955, or even as I did in 1975, even given the recent discovery of lots more extrasolar planets.
Really? Why?

We have seen no evidence that indicates that nuclear power is unexpectedly dangerous. We don't see three-eyed mutants walking around Hiroshima; we don't see nuclear explosions at reactors (cf. “Blowups Happen” by Robert Heinlein); we've seen only one major meltdown at Chernobyl (as well as a minor meltdown at Three-Mile Island); we didn't see cancer epidemics as a result of the bomb testing in the 1950s; we're no longer faced with an insane great power armed with thousands of nukes (we might be faced with an insane medium power armed with dozens, but that won't produce an On the Beach scenario). Even radioactivity looks less dangerous than we thought.

The only two unexpected anti-nuke phenomena are: 1) the anti-technology movement; and 2) the fact that large capital expenditures are unprofitable in an inflationary environment. Even anti-technology movement was predicted (“Trends” by Isaac Asimov); the only unexpected feature was the identity of the idiots involved.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Eating Non-locally

As a protest against “eating locally,” I've decided to try eating as non-locally as possible. Ideally, this would mean extraterrestrial food but we don't have that yet, so I'm looking for food that comes from as far away as possible.

The first example of this policy was to buy coconut oil that came from the Philippines. It was a violation of my earlier policy of never buying organic food but I figured it was acceptable since it's loaded with saturated fat.

A potential problem: New Zealand has passed a law banning kosher slaughter.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Odd Definition of Conservative, Continued

At first, my earlier post on this might look like a case of anecdotal evidence vs. real statistics. It's not. If I were challenging OKCupid's data it would be but I'm challenging an interpretation of it instead. I'm not saying “Look at this isolated case inconsistent with their data.” Instead, I'm saying “Look at this case consistent with their data.”

I may be just quibbling. They did mention the possibility the correlations might be a matter of geography instead of ideology.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Odd Definition of Conservative

OKCupid's statisticians used the following questions to determine if someone is conservative:

Should burning your country's flag be illegal?
Should the death penalty be abolished?
Should gay marriage be legal?
Should Evolution and Creationism be taught side-by-side in schools?
As anybody who reads this blog can tell, I'm usually considered to be a reactionary crackpot. On the other hand, I'm firmly on the liberal side on the first and fourth questions above and leaning liberal on the second and third. I suspect many people simply haven't bothered finding out what real reactionaries believe or what we regard as essential to conservatism.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I'm Almost Tempted to Register Republican

According to mundanes claiming to be wonks:

Republicans have a new idea: instead of wasting time protecting this planet, let’s figure out how to escape it.

How Do You Like Children, Mr. Fields?

Boiled or fried.

In a related story, there are things even Andrew Zimmern won't eat.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Nostalgic for Yesterday's Nonsense

I'm sure that my dozen or so readers have heard of a study that pointed out that college is not appropriate for everybody. For some reason, one of the reactions among my fellow wingnuts has been nostalgia for the earlier system in which many students were pushed into vocational education as though that were a matter of the free market at work. On the contrary, vocational education was pushed by The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education (dissected here and there more authoritatively than I can manage).

I suspect it was an earlier incarnation of the theory that it's more important to go to school than to actually learn anything.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Problem with Smoking Bans

The New York City Council has voted to ban public smoking:

In addition to parks and beaches, the bill also specifically prohibits smoking in the following areas:
• pools,
• recreation centers and
• all other property, equipment, buildings and facilities under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department.

The bill also prohibits smoking in pedestrian plazas, which are areas designated by the Department of Transportation for use as a plaza and are located within the bed of a roadway and may contain benches, tables or other facilities for a pedestrian to use.

I don't know if this applies to substances other than tobacco.

The real problem is that a policy of cracking down on declining vices gives anybody with a vice an incentive to promote it in order to prevent a crackdown. Beans eaters, for example, are taking notes.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Left-Wing Interpretation of the Second Amendment

The left-wing interpretation of the Second Amendment (that it protects state governments instead of individuals) did not come out of nowhere but was based on an actual court case (mentioned on the Volokh conspiracy).

The court case in question was in support of racist state militias in the former Confederacy. In other words, it's today's Left that is the heir of 19th-century racists.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Note on Supporting “Friendly” Dictators

If a powerful nation gets a reputation of supporting any dictator who might be likely to be overthrown by a totalitarian movement (for the purposes of this discussion it doesn't matter if said movement is communist, religious, or racist), then dictators have an incentive to prop up such movements.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

How Does It Feel to Be One of the Beautiful People?

I'm sure that nearly everybody online has heard of the study that supposedly showed that attractive people are more intelligent. My first reaction was that somebody should tell the organizers of the “Ugliest Man on Campus” contest at MIT.

My second reaction was astonishment that the researchers used a decent sample size (17,419) instead of rushing into print upon surveying a dozen freshmen. This might be the start of a new trend in social-science research: real data.

My third reaction was to notice that the correlation was between childhood IQ and childhood looks. The results may be different for adults. On the other hand, the paper tried to allow for that by mentioning a positive correlation between childhood and adult IQ and between childhood and adult appearance. On the gripping hand, I don't think something based on three stages of correlations is that reliable.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

This Makes More Sense Than It Looks

According to Jewish Philosopher (fundamentalists are not always Christian):

What's interesting to me is how scientific progress seems to have slowed almost to a halt since since evolution was first widely taught in American public schools in the 1960s.

Between 1910 and 1960, the United States progressed from what would now be considered a primitive, agricultural way of life, with horse drawn wagons and outhouses, to the age of automobiles, televisions and passenger jets. Life expectancy increased from 50 to 67 years (25%). From 1960 to 2010, the only major changes are that land line telephones have been replaced by cell phones and television has been replaced by the Internet. Life expectancy has increased from 67 to 75 years (10%). Much of our (now crumbling) infrastructure has been in place since the 1960's, if not far earlier. The US manned spaced program, once the pride of American science, is now dead.

The above is almost right. The same period that saw the teaching of evolution become official policy also saw increasing centralized control of education. It was taught before then but there was no central policy commanding it.

We must recall that the self-congratulation-based community supports teaching evolution and the look-say method of reading and affirmative action and bilingual education and they oppose school vouchers… They might be right once but not the rest of the time.

On the other hand, move to central control (and the consequent anti-intellectualism) has been building for decades.

On the gripping hand, much of the misinformation comes from other students. The really weird thing is that anybody who challenges a leftist on facts and is able to back it up is subject to the Galileo gambit. (How dare you cite an authority!)

Addendum: The word “not” originally omitted from the first line has been added.

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