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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Yet another weird SF fan

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Brief Note on the Royal Wedding

Why should we care? Didn't the U.S. have a revolution so we wouldn't have to care?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Two Complaints about IQ Tests

On the one hand, IQ tests are criticized for only measuring analytic intelligence. On the other hand, IQ tests are criticized for measuring other things than analytic intelligence.

There should be a debate between the two sides but there probably won't be one.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Real Reason Superman Renounced American Citizenship

The news that the Man of Steel has renounced American citizenship has been going around the blogosphere. The reason is quite simple: He wants to run for office in the Kryptonian government-in-exile.

The opposing party will, of course, challenge his birth certificate…

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What Is Meant by Integrative Complexity?

The claim that President Obama is an “integratively complex thinker” has been making its way around the blogosphere. If anybody wants to known what, if anything, is meant by “integratively complex,” the late Richard Mitchell gave an example of the contrast between integratively-complex thought and integratively-simple thought. Two students submitted essays in response to the following question:

Suppose that your school is short of money and can keep only one of the following: driver education, school athletics, art, music, or vocational programs. You and other students have been asked to write to the principal and tell which one program you most want to keep. Be sure to give the reasons for the one you choose. Remember, you can choose only one program.
Student A wrote:
You have proposed an illogical situation, but I will do my best to give you an answer. I choose driver's education over the other classes on my own special process of elimination. School athletics is out because I can't stand the class and have no wish to inflict it on others. Art and music are really unfair electives to leave out, but they are certainly not as important as driving unless you plan to make a career of them. In that case, I'm sorry but life is hard. Vocational programs were the toughest of all to leave out (and it is the subject your mythical school will probably keep, despite this recommendation), because you do make a career of them, but look at it this way: Driving is almost essential to a person's life, and although one could learn to drive elsewhere, it would be much more expensive. Actually, my whole rationale doesn't have to make sense because your question didn't in the first place.
Student B wrote:
I think you should keep Athletics. Because its good for the Body. And it can Help you if you would like to Become a pro football player.
In case you were wondering what grades the two students received:

And thus it comes to pass that, on a scale from 0 to 4, Essay B gets a 2, witness to mastery, and by far the most common score. Essay A, however, is not up to the standards of focused primary trait holistic scoring. It gets a 1.

How so? Simple. Writer B gave two reasons for his choice. That is mastery in the "organization of ideas." What is more, his prose style suggests that professors of education and superintendents of schools won't feel too déclassé in his company.

Writer A gave only one reason for his choice. However, even had he given fifty reasons, he would not have earned a better score. Focused primary trait holistic scoring is not intended for the encouragement of wiseacres like that snotty A kid, and it provides that no score better than a 1 can be awarded to any writer who "challenges the question." You have to nip that funny stuff right in the old bud. You let that once get started and the next thing you know some of those brats will clarify some of our values and that will be the end of life adjustment as we know it.

Integrative complexity is what the second essay had and the first essay didn't.

On the other hand, the President can write better than the second student. On the gripping hand, he's being praised by the same people who would give high marks to the second student.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How about Those Navier–Stokes Equations?

According to William Deresiewicz:

It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness.
It might be easier if his education were in a field that was about something in the real world, instead of about each other's opinions about the real world.

To make matters worse, he then went on to say:

I also never learned that there are smart people who aren’t “smart.” The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. The “best” are the brightest only in one narrow sense. One needs to wander away from the educational elite to begin to discover this.

I strongly suspect that plumbers need analytic intelligence a lot more than they need those three other forms. This rhetoric might even be a way for humanists to try to prove that they're better than the experts in real-world subjects while simultaneously looking humble.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Nonfiction Version of Science Fiction

I once again find a nonfiction essay that covers the same territory as a science-fiction story. This time it's The Future of Human Evolution (seen via Less Wrong), a nonfiction version of “The High Ones“ by Poul Anderson.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Were the Fukushima Meltdowns Caused by Regulations?

According to The Wall Street Journal:

TOKYO—The operator of Japan's stricken nuclear plant let pressure in one reactor climb far beyond the level the facility was designed to withstand, a decision that may have worsened the world's most serious nuclear accident in a quarter century.

Japanese nuclear-power companies are so leery of releasing radiation into the atmosphere that their rules call for waiting much longer and obtaining many more sign-offs than U.S. counterparts before venting the potentially dangerous steam that builds up as reactors overheat, a Wall Street Journal inquiry found.

In other words, regulations written by nervous ninnies afraid of an infinitesimal release of radioactive material caused a far worse problem.

I've found a surprising number of problems are aggravated by the people claiming to be most “concerned” about them. We can add nuclear meltdowns to the list.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Ptolemaic Cosmology Day!

I think that's the most appropriate name for an Earth-centered day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

NCBI vs. Mark Alan Stamaty

On the one hand, according to NCBI ROFL:

The relationships of self-reported text messaging frequency and knowledge of text message abbreviations with spelling ability were investigated. Two studies were conducted in which the college student participants provided self-reports of text messaging frequency, responded to a test of knowledge of text message abbreviations, and completed a standardized spelling test. In both studies, self-reported text messaging frequency was not predictive of scores on the spelling test. Knowledge of text message abbreviations was positively correlated with spelling scores. In the second study, spelling ability was positively correlated with processing time to identify abbreviations as real. The results were not consistent with the idea that better knowledge of text messaging is predictive of lower spelling ability. Instead, individuals with better knowledge of abbreviations tended to be better spellers.
On the other hand, according to Mark Alan Stamaty:
f u cn rd ths, u prbly cnt spl

The Paranoids Are out to Get Us!

According to a recent study:

“At least among some samples and for some conspiracy theories, the perception that ‘they did it’ is fueled by the perception that ‘I would do it,’” University of Kent psychologists Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton write in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

“These studies suggest that people who have more lax personal morality may endorse conspiracy theories to a greater extent because they are, on average, more willing to participate in the conspiracies themselves.”

What does this imply about people who are convinced that “They” are covering up everything about nuclear power?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Challenge to Libertarianism

The following is very disturbing news:

Bolivia is set to pass the world's first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country's rich mineral deposits as "blessings" and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature "to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities".

If this is what coca leaves can do, there just might be a case for the War on Some Drugs. … What was that? In that kind of society, the laws can't be enforced? And the social changes that will make the laws enforceable will also make then unnecessary?

Meanwhile, in view of the fact that the rain forests were much smaller during the Ice Ages, maybe smaller rain forests are what the Earth Goddess actually wants and we should pave those pesky rain forests. For that matter, the Earth produced humanity, so maybe the Earth wants to be exploited.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Personal Incredulity Is Not an Argument

Alexander Higgins is incredulous about a possible explanation of why I-131 was detected at a water treatment plant in Philadelphia:

This article on the Philadelphia Inquirer just made me sick to my stomach.


Kathryn Higley, a health physicist at Oregon State University, said the most likely source is a nearby or upstream medical facility that treats cancer patients with Iodine-131, which can enter the water supply when patients go to the bathroom.

That is an awful lot of iodine for Cancer patients to be urinating into the drinking water. The article goes on to say they will begin treating the water with “carbon as a precautionary measure”. It also noted that radioactive iodine was detected in the water last year but this makes me question whether that statement is really true or not.

Let's start calculating how much I-131 you might expect to find in groundwater as a result of urination by nuclear medicine patients. In a typical year, patients in the United States use 1.7 × 105 GBq of I-131. The RDA for iodine is 150 μg and the average amount in a human body has been estimated at 50 mg. That means the half life of iodine in human bodies due to urination is 230 days (50,000 × ln 2/150), which is almost 30 times longer than the half-life of I-131 due to decay. In other words, 1/30 of the I-131 used by nuclear medicine patients will be excreted. The United States has an area of around 107 km2. The average annual rainfall is (at a wild guess) around 50 cm. Put this all together and we find U.S. nuclear medical patients excrete 5.9 × 103 GBq per year, which is diluted by 5 × 1015 kg of water. This amounts to slightly over 0.0012 Bq/kg, which around 1/30 the EPA drinking water standard.

At first this looks like it demolishes the patient-urination theory, until we recall that the United States isn't homogeneous and the Philadelphia measurement appears to be an outlier. I live in Nassau County, NY which is 50 times more densely-populated than the U.S. average and Philadelphia is 130 times more densely-populated than the U.S. average. A water-treatment plant that's near a hospital will be even more exposed to nuclear patients.

On the other hand, it takes time for the iodine to get from the sewer to the water-treatment plant via groundwater and I-131 has a rapid decay rate. I'd call the urination theory dubious but not preposterous. If the I-131 is still there in a month, we'll know it's not from Fukushima.

Meanwhile, it looks like the “Greens” are finally starting to realize what we've been trying to tell them for years: Everything is radioactive. Of course, now that they have an excuse, they think it's all Our Fault.

I know you are but what am I moment

People who regard anthropogenic global warming as a crisis frequently accuse my fellow wingnuts of believing that the world's climate scientists are engaged in a conspiracy to Hide the Truth. (Actually, we believe that the world's reporters aren't covering climate research right. We think it's possible that the reporters are overemphasizing research that indicates there is a crisis and underemphasizing research that indicates there isn't.) The accusation might not be true about us but it's definitely true of the anti-nuclear people.

For some reason, I'm reminded of the following from The Vicar of Dibley:

Alice Horton: [walks out of the kitchen carrying two cups and gives one to Geraldine] I've been reading that fantastic new book from the Bible.
Geraldine Granger: [confused] *What* fantastic new book from the Bible?
Alice Horton: The Da Vinci Code. You know it's *so* much better than Genesis and that boring old stuff.
Geraldine Granger: I hate to tell you Alice but The Da Vinci Code is *not* a new book in the Bible. It's just a story.
Alice Horton: [downcast] Oh, that is so disappointing.
Geraldine Granger: [broken voice] I know.
Alice Horton: To think that Catholic Church has fooled you as well Mrs Gullible... Gussit. That's what they want you to believe. And I've been thinking...
Geraldine Granger: Ooh. Always a worry.


If the I-131 is from the recent meltdown, it must have been time traveling:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told the Daily News yesterday that Philadelphia water samples from last August contained nearly twice as much radioactive iodine as the recent samples collected after the Fukushima disaster.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

He's Wrong

I'm leaning back, not leaning forward.

OTOH, he's got the amount of hair on top of my head right…

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Classic Technique

One classic debating technique is:

  1. mention an argument from the opposing side,
  2. offer essentially no counter-argument,
  3. treat the first argument as ridiculous.
We see an example this attempt at a dissection of the Banana Equivalent Dose. The closest thing to a counter-argument is pointing that other mundane objects are as radioactive as bananas … which, if anything, strengthens the original argument.

While I'm on the topic, I've been wondering if the potassium pills I've been taking count as nuclear medicine…

Monday, April 11, 2011

On This Day 57 Years Ago …

… absolutely nothing happened.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How Can They Tell?

The news that radioactive horseradish has been found in Japan has been making its way around the blogosphere. Isn't horseradish already radioactive? It sure tastes radioactive…

Thursday, April 07, 2011

All Hail the Experts … until They Disagree with Us

One of most amusing aspects of the current hysteria over the fact rain water has exceeded a preposterous standard for radioactive iodine in drinking water is the switch back and forth between “We can't trust the experts” and “The experts have spoken. All hail the experts!” Which is it?

On the other hand, when I asked that question on an anti-nuclear blog, I got the response:

there’s a difference between independent experts and those on the payroll of corporations (including federal agencies)
On the gripping hand, the radioactivity of bananas has been measured by independent experts. The EPA is a federal agency.

I'm not alone

I was starting to wonder why my fellow crackpots were ignoring this issue. I then found that Ronald Bailey beat me to it. Now I wonder why more of my fellow wingnuts aren't linking to that.

While looking at the comments on the above-mentioned article, I noticed that the anonymous anti-nuclear comments all seemed to sound alike. Hmmm…

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Do Right-Wing Intellectuals Always Obey Their “Corporate Masters”? Part II

No (but we knew that already). According to The New York Times:

But that appears to be a tall order, judging by reaction yesterday to the group's preliminary findings, which drew suspicion from climate skeptics and mainstream climate scientists alike.


But yesterday wasn't the first time the BEST effort has come under scrutiny. Joe Romm, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, has called into question the study's funders, which include the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation -- which has supported efforts opposing mainstream climate change science.

Hmmmmm… The supposedly-evil and corrupting Koch brothers hired an honest man? What does this imply about anybody who dismisses opposition with the claim that Koch brothers paid for it?

Since Joseph Romm was mentioned above, you must never forget that he calculates the cost of nuclear subsidies in terms of total amount since the technology was invented and the cost of “alternative-energy” subsidies in terms of cents per day per household. I think that's illegal when done in a financial prospectus.

The Worst Nuclear Accident Ever

It was at Chalk River. It may have been responsible for Jimmy Carter's energy policy.

One Way to Look at the EPA 131I Standard

If everybody in New York City drank 8 glasses of water at the EPA limit for 131I, that would be that same amount of radioactive material as in 30,000 pounds of bananas.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Out of What Bodily Orifice Did They Pull This Figure?

The latest hysterical claim about radioactivity is that:

The U.S. federal drinking water standard for radioactive Iodine-131 is 3 picocuries per liter, but levels exceeding that by many times have been detected in rainwater sampled in California, Idaho, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
As far as I can tell, the claim that the federal standard for drinking water is 3 pCi/liter came from a press release that may have been a typo. On the other hand, the radioactivity of bananas is 1000 times greater and the federal standard for tritium is 6000 times greater and the Japanese standard for I-131 is over 2000 times greater. I suspect the federal standard for drinking water (which I can't seem to find) is 3 nCi/liter [CITATION NEEDED].

Addendum: I've located the orifice:

EPA has set an average annual drinking water limit of 3 pCi/L for 131I so the public radiation dose will not exceed 4 millirem.
Three important things to remember: 1) The supposedly-intolerable levels of 131I are found in rainwater and will be diluted in drinking water. 2) The limit is for an average over a year. That will be much less than the peak amount when you recall that 131I has a half life of only 8 days. 3) It's still idiotic. To quote Charles Dickens:
‘If the law supposes that’, said Mr. Bumble, ‘the law is a ass—a idiot.’
In related news

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Cost of Major Nuclear Accidents per Kilowatt Hour

Let's see… The cost of the Fukushima mishap is estimated at $130 billion. There have been around 25 years between major accidents. (Kyshtym was 28½ years before Chernobyl.) The world's nuclear power plants can generate 374,958 MW of electric power and do so 79.3% of the time. Put it all together and we get an average cost of major nuclear accidents (assuming Fukushima is typical) of ⅕¢ per kilowatt hour.

Repeal the Price–Anderson Act. It may have been necessary back in 1957. (Nukes were more dangerous back then.) I don't think it's needed now.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

At First, I Thought This Was an April Fool's Joke

The manufacturer of the pumps being used to cool off the Fukushima reactors has an odd name.

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