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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Dr. Yes (formerly Death)

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Other interesting web sites:
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Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
Libertarians for Life
The Mad Revisionist
Piled Higher and Deeper
Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
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Yet another weird SF fan

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Assumption of Censorship

One sign of paranoia: The belief that the Establishment is censoring you … even in the absence of evidence.

My introduction to this was the time I read: “You won't find these ideas in a university library!” in a university library. Another example is the belief that chain bookstores would never carry anything by Noam Chomsky. Shortly after I read that claim, I checked a Borders bookstore and found a shelf full of Chomsky's books. (Or is that why it's out of business?)

On the other hand, self-censorship appears to be common. I don't even mean self-censorship of what you speak but self-censorship of what you read. It's amazing how many have never heard of the ideas that liberals could be fascists (as described by Nobel prize winner Friedrich von Hayek as well as Jonah Goldberg or even Steven J. Gould) but also the evidence showing that “primitive peoples” did not preserve their environment intact, the fact that Hannukah is a celebration of armed resistance, and even the fact that the roundness of the Earth was well known in the Middle Ages. Maybe we should fight that instead of blaming an Establishment.

I'm reminded of this by the comments here on a possible Google experiment on filtering web sites by factual accuracy. Even if someone tries using that for censorship purposes, it's unlikely to last. For a while Google was shutting down anti-Obama blogs. They had to backtrack on that. The experiment might be an example of a common phenomenon: Leftists attempting to devise an objective test that they imagine will prove conservatives are scum. This is then followed by dropping it when the test gives answers they don't like.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Does Life Require Borders?

Patri Friedmann on borders:

One of the things life has taught me this decade is the importance of exclusion and boundaries, which are highly relevant to this metaphor. A thermodynamic system with poor borders (less insulation), will have greater thermal conductivity. It may do more work initially, but it will also move at maximum speed towards that final resting state where all energy is evenly distributed. Such a state is peaceful in precisely the same way as death; for without flows of energy, there can be no life (in vivo or in silico – as no computation is possible). I suppose those who think human extinction is fair or just will consider this the state of ultimate fairness. I don’t particularly care for that final solution.

So if you even care about life existing – let alone the infinite diversity possible therein – then (contra Caplan), boundaries (such as national borders) are an absolute necessity. No differences, no energy flow, no (thermodynamic) work, no life. As in the stars, so on the earth: romance flows from polarity; trade from comparative advantage; thermodynamic work from heat differences; evolution from variation; economic competition from competing alternatives. All progress is driven by differences; so to erase differences is (counter-eponymously) to end progress.

Alexander Cairns-Smith on borders:
The control of the environment by primitive genes depended, not on the individual acts of individual genes, but on effects depending on millions and millions of copies of them. There was thus no need for anything as neat as a cell. If you are a gene very close to the ground, if your modes of preferential survival and propagation depend on deflecting somewhat, and to your advantage, processes that are going on in any case around you, there is no need to be so cordoned off. Indeed it is better not to be.
I won't more than mention that there aren't many border controls inside the U.S. but that doesn't make the U.S. homogeneous.

Phyletic Gradualism or Punctuated Equilbrium?

Sean Davis is asking journalists:

…do you believe in phyletic gradualism or punctuated equilbrium?
My answer: Let's do both!

Phyletic gradualism is based on the idea that nature does not make jumps. Punctuated equilibrium is based on the idea that almost all the time, species aren't changing. Oddly enough both theories are compatible with each other in the presence of change. The Cantor function (also known as the “Devil's Staircase”) increases from 0 to 1 even though it is both continuous (the equivalent of phyletic gradualism) and the first derivative is defined and zero almost everywhere (the equivalent of punctuated equilibrium).

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Real Reason the Left Supports Net Neutrality

It's a government regulation that hasn't been discredited yet. Advocate a government regulation in nearly any other field and you'll have libertarians saying “Look at how the State messed things up!” In the case of net neutrality, our best argument is “Look at how the State messed things up everywhere else!” This, of course, can be spun as paranoid rantings. (It doesn't help that some of the people involved also engage in paranoid rantings.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


On the one hand, people who believe global warming is a crisis accuse skeptics of taking money from fossil-fuel interests.

On the other hand, people who believe global warming is not a crisis accuse believers of taking money from governments.

It's unlikely either side has been bribed. Unscrupulously-greedy people are unlikely to become or remain scientists. Those payments that do exist are likely to be a matter of buying a megaphone for people already on the right side.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rhodomagnetism and Reality

The imaginary science used in The Humanoids by Jack Williamson included rhodomagnetism, magnetism in the next shell up from the ferromagnetism of iron and similar metals. In the real world, we find magnetism from the next shell, but it's manifested in the rare earths. The real-world version is also less spectacular. You don't get superluminal communication; you just get extra-strong magnets.

In a related story, there are also magnetic phenomena of the shell in the other direction, manifested in oxygen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Fate Worse Than Death?

I think I've figured out why anti-vaccine parents are willing to accept an increased possibility of contracting occasionally-fatal illnesses in return for a reduction in the chances of being autistic that's somewhere between infinitesimal and non-existent: They regard being abnormal as a fate worse than death.

In possibly-related news, the overwhelming majority of fetuses that test positive for Down Syndrome are aborted. This all fits together.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Physical Principles That Apply to Social Science

I can think of two:

The Law of Conservation of Momentum, on the other hand, does not apply. If the stock market went up yesterday, that does not mean it will go up today. If crime increased in the 1960–1990 period, that does not mean it will continue to increase. The failure of predictions based on it may have made attempts at “social physics” look naive.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Question about “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”

How do we know Superman is male? That might be an ovipositor.

What does this style of speculation imply about Supergirl?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Suggestion for Scott Walker

If he's nominated, he can ensure a balanced ticket by picking Newt Gingrich, PhD for Vice President. The obvious campaign tactic against Scott Walker is that we need book smarts instead of “street smarts” (I put that in quotes because “street smarts” usually turns out to mean “agrees with us”) and the obvious campaign tactic against Newt Gingrich is to raise doubts about book smarts. It will be very hard for Democrats to fight a two-front war.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Recruiting the Wrong Allies Can Be A Mistake

Apparently, some of the early advocates for capitalism tried recruiting aristocrats (who were worried that the lower classes might get richer) by assuring them that the poor would stay poor even under capitalism. (I say apparently because I haven't heard of the people with the worst quotes. There were damning quotes from nobodies and not-so-bad quotes from people like Frances Hutcheson.) This may have had an influence on Karl Marx.

More recently, Bill Gates mentioned population control in the course of the discussion of vaccines. This caused a wide variety of crackpots to assume that meant there were sterilizing agents in the vaccines. (The odd thing is that Bill Gates is willing to admit Malthusians aren't always right.)

Maybe it was a mistake for the early advocates of capitalism to try to recruit aristocrats and maybe it was a mistake for vaccine advocates to try to recruit population controllers.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Time to Short Google?

Judging by the low vaccination rates at Google day-care centers, some of their employees have a certain lack of general cognitive ability. Maybe they should go back to IQ tests.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Will the State Continue to Rescue Us from a Problem It Created?

Some lobbyists want cell phones to be open to legal robocalls.

What if we repealed the anti-blocking rules of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 (also known as phone neutrality) instead? First, the government stopped businesses from providing blocking services and then stepped in to rescue us. It might next compound the annoyance by threatening to repeal the substitute and calling the result “deregulation.”

Spam has been one of the problems with the custom of net neutrality just as phone spam is one of the problems of the law of phone neutrality. The proposed net neutrality rules will freeze that problem.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Sometimes the Right Wing Really Is Nuts, Part II

I doubt if there's a conspiracy to shut down competition for Russian gas that involves the Simons family. Jim Simons has invested in a nuclear construction firm. After all, the probable mouthpiece for Russian propaganda, @trutherbot, is anti-nuclear.

Friday, February 06, 2015

I'll Be Only 97 Then

If we extrapolate the decline in the abortion rate in the graph here, we can see the abortion rate will be zero in 2053.

In 2054, abortion will be banned.

In 2055, a left-wing magazine will publish an an article blaming abortion on capitalism.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

He Is Caucasian

According to Addicting Info:

If you were a stranger who happened into the Jindal office, you may understandably assume that the Governor of Louisiana is Caucasian.
He is Caucasian. The term “Caucasian” was invented in the first place in order to put Europeans and South Asians in the same racial category.

There will now be a slight pause for somebody to say “Who cares?”

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Enforcing Vaccine Laws

On the one hand, control of contagious disease has been a traditional activity of classical-liberal governments. On the other hand, public-health authorities are also notable for preposterous ideas about guns and dubious ideas on nutrition. It might be dangerous to arm them with the legal ability to forcibly vaccinate. Instead, I recommend we take a hint from Leviticus 13:45:

And as to the leper in whom the sore is,—his garments shall be rent, and his head shall be uncovered, and he shall put a covering on his beard, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean!
The worst thing this will encourage is GMO labeling laws (and similar nonsense) and those will have at least one beneficial effect: They will make it easier for me to boycott GMO-free foods. (By the way, does anybody know where I can buy tempeh with GMOs?)

Monday, February 02, 2015

It's Not Your Fault…

Scott Alexander points out that biological determinism is regarded as “compassionate” in all fields but one:

The obvious pattern is that attributing outcomes to things like genes, biology, and accidents of birth is kind and sympathetic. Attributing them to who works harder and who’s “really trying” can stigmatize people who end up with bad outcomes and is generally viewed as Not A Nice Thing To Do.

And the weird thing, the thing I’ve never understood, is that intellectual achievement is the one domain that breaks this pattern.

It's quite simple. The compassionate outlook prefers to see faults outside the victim. Your effort is regarded as entirely inside you. Your genes are partly the real you and partly something the real you has to put up with. Social pressures are entirely outside you. When the debate is “genes vs. effort,” the self-congratulatory ones, I mean the compassionate ones will blame genes. When the debate is “genes vs. an oppressive Establishment,” the compassionate ones will blame the Establishment.

As far as I can tell, most of the people who blame the Establishment for low intellectual achievement are currently allied with allied with people who blame lack of effort (since both sides are opposed to genetic explanations) but if genetic explanations are ever discredited they will go after each other. (They're already starting to go after each other on topics such as affirmative action.)

Saturday, January 31, 2015

More Old News

There's nothing new about the theory that the past, present, and future all exist together in a four-dimensional space–time. It dates back at least to Lagrange, had a literary description in The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, and the modern version of it was part of the Theory of Relativity.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Has Global Warming Resumed?

After the past week's weather, I sure hope so.

I've come to the conclusion that “snow” is a four-letter Anglo-Saxon word.

Rain is a necessity. Is there any excuse for snow?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

U.S. Once Had Universal Child Care

U.S. once had universal child care. I doubt if we want to follow all the policies of that era.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

This Is Old News

According to Newsweek, scientists have discovered how to unboil an egg.

It's always been possible to unboil an egg. Just feed it to a chicken.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Trying to Get Edenism out of My Head

The trouble with Edenism (a recent brand of crackpot anthropology based on a handful of peculiar skulls that may have been due to a combination of head binding and hydrocephalus, some racial stereotyping with the serial numbers filed off, drug-induced fantasizing, and one or two actual facts) is that it's sticky. After reading about it, it's easy to start classifying people on the street or in history books, even if the classifications make no sense.

For example, I've recently been reading about the origin of descriptive set theory and can't help thinking of René Baire as a Starchild or Henri Lebesgue as a Mousterian Neanderthal or Jacques Hadamard as a Melonhead or …

I suppose I'll have to find another crackpot theory to stop this.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fetal Lives Matter

This cartoon is a handy argument against the claim that pro-lifers believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

You Can't Always Tell a Book by Its Cover

For example, Ecological Imperialism by Alfred Crosby is not what it sounds like. On the other hand, Words of Power: a Feminist Reading of the History of Logic by Andrea Nye is what it sounds like.

In other words, you do have to read the book (or see the film).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Falsifying Philosophy

Harvey Friedman, a philosopher specializing in the philosophy of mathematics, is well known for Friedman's Grand Conjecture:

Every theorem published in the Annals of Mathematics whose statement involves only finitary mathematical objects (i.e., what logicians call an arithmetical statement) can be proved in EFA. EFA is the weak fragment of Peano Arithmetic based on the usual quantifier-free axioms for 0, 1, +, ×, exp, together with the scheme of induction for all formulas in the language all of whose quantifiers are bounded.
On the other hand, Harvey Friedman is also well known for
… attempts to justify large cardinal axioms by demonstrating their necessity for deriving certain propositions considered "concrete".
I think the “giant ant” I mentioned here was part of that research. On the gripping hand, the concrete propositions look like statements that logicians pulled out of a vulgar body aperture just to be ornery.

I was puzzled by this for a while. He was arguing in favor of one conclusion while providing something that might be evidence against it. I then realized what he was doing: He was trying to falsify a statement. This is so rare in philosophy, that it was hard to recognize. Philosophers have talked about falsification for years but it always seemed to for others to do. Now that a philosopher is applying the concept of falsification, it might be time for philosophy to climb the science hierarchy.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Omelets vs. Frittatas, Continued

I came up with a way to have three-sided frittatas: When the bottom is set but the top is still runny, lift up the frittata, let some of the egg run underneath, and fry that for a second side. When that's done, turn the frittata over for a third side.

It's probably easier than frying Gabriel's Horn.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Omelets vs. Frittatas

The most important difference between omelets and frittatas is that omelets are fried on only one side whereas frittatas can be fried on two sides. As a fan of the Maillard process, I think the more surfaces fried the better.

I'm starting research into the topological investigations needed to produce a three-sided frittata. (ObSF: “No-Sided Professor” by Martin Gardner)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fighting Hate Speech

If “hate speech” is something absolutely horrible, clearly the alleged perpetrators deserve something absolutely horrible … such as hate speech aimed in their direction. In other words, anyone who tries assassinating enemy cartoonists (instead of insulting them) is demonstrating that they don't actually believe that hate speech is horrible.

Yes, I've said this before, but it bears repeating.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Explaining the Wisdom of the Crowd, Continued

Duty calls.

Wired appears to disagree with the Wisdom of the Crowd Theorem (and right after I blogged about it). They got two things wrong:

  • The theorem says that the median estimate is more accurate than most individuals; it says nothing about the average.
  • Even despite that, the average guess was more accurate than 60% of the individuals … and the median guess was more accurate than that.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

There's Hope for the Statists (Tobacco-Control Edition)

According to a speculation at Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, major reason for the opposition to the e-cigarettes is that it interferes with the use of tobacco control as an excuse to extend State power. On the other hand, there's hope for the statists yet. They can always call for government-subsidized e-cigarettes. If anybody objects, accuse them of starting a “war on tobacco users.” Look for them to quote mine pro-tobacco libertarian rhetoric in support of the idea.

There's another side to subsidies: If there turns out to be a problem with e-cigarettes, no matter how small, the subsidies can be used as an excuse to regulate. There may even be a law that the waste from subsidized e-cigarettes can only be be disposed of in a repository in Nevada that the authorities can order closed.

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