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Pope Francis Declares Evolution and Big Bang Theory Are Right

AthanasiusKircher Re:Only took 359 years to accept Galileo... (594 comments)

It only took them until 1993 to admit they were wrong to try Galielo for heresy (for such modern concepts as the idea that celestial bodies are not perfect spheres attached to the vault of heaven), so people who say the Catholic church has a long tradition of being anti-science definitely have a leg to stand on.

Interesting. Did you look at your linked article? If you believe the Church did not accept the ideas of Galileo until the pope apologized in 1993, does that mean you also think the Church still endorsed slavery at that point, that they believed that it was fine to go around slaughtering all the natives in the New World whenever you want, etc.? Those are on that list too. Just because the pope apologized in 1993 doesn't mean that's when they accepted heliocentrism.

When did the Church accept heliocentrism? In 1758, they dropped the general ban on books arguing the truth of heliocentrism. They finally lifted the ban on Galileo's books in the 1820s.

Interestingly, from a history of science standpoint, the mid-1700s was when the first proof of the Earth's motion was actually empirically measured, in James Bradley's observations of the aberration of light. Bradley first measured this in the late 1720s, but at first didn't understand the results (he was looking for parallax -- the real thing to prove the Earth's motion, as people had been looking for since the 1500s). Later, in the 1740s, he successfully measured and interpreted another aspect of the Earth's motion, the nutation of the Earth's axis.

So, basically in the decades immediately following the first actual empirical proof of heliocentrism, the Church lifted its ban on books asserting it to be true. (Note that the Church always allowed books which treated heliocentrism as a hypothesis or as a mathematical model, which is what it actually was... until sometime in the mid 1700s.)

Oh, and stellar parallax was first observed and measured in 1838... just about the time the Church finally lifted the ban on Galileo's writings.

Galileo was basically found guilty of disobeying an order not to teach heliocentrism as truth, only as hypothesis. He could not prove it was true, but he nevertheless asserted it to be true and wrote a book making fun of powerful people who believed otherwise. We can argue about Galileo's prosecution as a free-speech issue, but frankly he was wrong about the science (he argued for circular orbits against the elliptical ones Kepler had observed, and his only supposed proof of the Earth's motion was a discredited theory of the tides that required there to be only one high tide at noon every day, for example of a few big holes), and he was called out for being a jerk about things he couldn't prove.


Pope Francis Declares Evolution and Big Bang Theory Are Right

AthanasiusKircher Re:Tip of the iceberg (594 comments)

All we can do is do science the right way, and then try to use it and claim "hurr durr see bible was right - here here and there". The revisionist approach many religious people seem so fond of can be reduced to: the religious text X must be right, let's see if we can fit it to our current understanding of reality. I shouldn't need to state the obvious problem here:

Well, arguably this is precisely what we do with the history of science, too. We teach the history of science as if it's one clear trajectory of progress -- when in reality, we cherry-pick the stuff we like from most early "scientists" and ignore all the weird crap they spewed that doesn't make any sense to us today (and often which they thought at the time was just as "scientific" or whatever their contemporary description would be).

So, if we're not allowed to find proto-scientific understandings in historical texts, let's be consistent and stop acting like all of the "scientists" in history knew exactly what they were doing and had a modern scientific method and understanding. They did not.

any time spent on such revisionism is a big waste and has nothing but faint entertainment value. If you're easily amused, that is.

Religions often were partially based on attempts to understand the natural world, just as science attempts to. If you want to understand how earlier people really thought (and potentially realize that maybe in some cases a different perspective or worldview might have value), you need to consider what role these ideas played.

If you believe all study of history, including the history of "science," is stupid... well, then at least you're consistent.


We Are All Confident Idiots

AthanasiusKircher Re:And that's what's wrong today (288 comments)

And sometimes I can't help but wonder if knowing too much is actually keeping people from climbing the corporate ladder. It seems, the less you know, the higher your chance that you'll end up at the C-Level.

I'm pretty sure I remember reading a study some years back about average IQ vs. salary. (Given the thread I'm discussing this in, I'm hesitant to say I'm sure of anything.) Anyhow, the conclusion was that people who made the big money in business tend not to be the smartest -- they tend to be somewhat above average, but not more than a standard deviation or two. Those results make some intuitive sense, given not only the parent's argument about ignorance, but also the fact that the people who possess rare intelligence often also end up with weird and eclectic interests, which means they often may be driven by some more esoteric obsession than the simple accumulation of wealth.

But perhaps I'm just rationalizing, as TFA says.

Anyhow, I would also agree with the parent to some extent because I think our current corporate culture specifically REQUIRES a certain level of ignorance to produce the results that many businesses want. There are very few corporations satisfied to be relatively "stable" from year-to-year. Growth, expansion, innovation, etc. are the normal desired features, even in businesses where basic methods don't change very fast.

The most rational choice -- and probably the one adopted by intelligent, informed people -- would be one that probably approximates the average growth rate of the economy as a whole. For example, it's like the "invest in index funds" strategy -- from a rational, informed perspective, it's probably the course most likely to keep your investments stable.

But lots of people are convinced that they have a strategy that will beat the market. Similarly, lots of people in mid-level management think they have a plan for a business that will involve risky choices to get ahead of competition, to expand at a great rate, etc.

Obviously there will be a few people who actually ARE smart enough to figure out a strategy that's likely to beat the average. But there are probably 10 times as many people who THINK they can beat the average, but they're deluded.

The problem is that if you gather enough such people together, a few of them are bound to have a string of "hits" just by chance. And those people tend to get promoted in our current corporate culture, because they apparently produce "results" which are far ahead of what the rational, informed, safer course would be... even if their "hits" were just a string of luck.

And once you reach a certain level of management and size of business, even really bad decisions won't sink your career. For one thing, you increasingly rely on delegating those decisions to underlings who will take the fall unless a true disaster happens where they call for the head of the CEO. Instead of promoting the risky decisions yourself, you are in change of promoting the people who will do it, and some will get lucky... just like you did. And if you have a string of luck, you become a "great CEO." If you fail miserably (as is just as likely with chance), you take your golden parachute and retire.

Basically, this is bound to be a case in a system where we promote people based on the idea that they will be overly aggressive and make strong decisions outside the norm, expecting results outside the norm. We're essentially demanding a level of exceptionalism that will tend to favor promotion on the basis of chance success (since few people have the skills to actually succeed that way due to skill). The demand for those sort of people will always exceed their supply -- which means lots of people will just get promoted for having a string of positive results outside the norm... even if it's the blind luck of someone who's too ignorant to choose a more rational and safer course.

2 days ago

The Airplane of the Future May Not Have Windows

AthanasiusKircher Re:Fine, if (285 comments)

Fine, if it comes with a really good imaging system passengers can access. A VR set "would be nice."

Meh. I mean, sure that'd be nice. You know what would be MORE nice? Take some of that savings in construction and fuel costs which you'd get from the windowless plane, and give me a slightly more roomy seat with more legroom.

I'd gladly fly on a windowless plane if it gave me even slightly more legroom. Looking out the window was fun when I was 10 years old, but it's pretty low on my priorities for flying these days.

2 days ago

Creationism Conference at Michigan State University Stirs Unease

AthanasiusKircher Re:So they got their reservation using deception? (971 comments)

And as to the University venue, a University is supposed to support discourse, not enforce dogma, even if that dogma is deemed correct. They are teaching creationism, and they aren't forcing anyone to go, they are merely allowing it to be said. Going down the road of 'you can't say THAT here' is a very dangerous turn of thinking and should only be done in the most extreme of cases.

There is a potential problem of misrepresentation here, though. It's not like this university is saying to some random dude walking around a public part of campus talking to people: "You can't say that here!" If that were true, you might have an argument about free speech or whatever.

Instead, read the summary:

Creation Summit secured a room at the university's business school through a student religious group, but the student group did not learn about the details of the program--or the sometimes provocative talk titles--until later.

In other words, it appears the group reserved a room at a university to host a conference under false pretenses. Why, you might ask?

As someone who has been involved with a number of different universities, including some prestigious ones, there are a LOT of people who want to claim university affiliation as a kind of stamp of approval for themselves or their group, even if they are unaffiliated or their event was NOT sponsored or in any way deliberately hosted by the university. There are lots of people who want to claim a university's name even if they have no connection, since it implies academic legitimacy.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if this group reserved a room through a religious group under false pretenses so they can put on their website or flyers or whatever something like: "Our last academic conference on creation science was hosted at Michigan State University."

When you say something like that, you make it sound like the university not just didn't suppress their speech, but in fact may have invited academic debate, sponsored the conference, whatever... which implies a legitimacy that is inappropriate given that what really happened was an external organization got a student group to reserve a room under false pretenses.

Usually universities have policies about when and how outside groups can use their facilities, like any organization. And if they were to allow an event like this, they might be very specific to be clear that any materials stated that the event was not endorsed, sponsored by, or hosted by the university -- it was just essentially renting a room.

2 days ago

High Speed Evolution

AthanasiusKircher Re:Falsifiability (280 comments)

Mainly, this one is winnable simply by observing actual scientists (or anyone working in a domain related to the sciences), and noting that nobody actually applies the same criteria to any other scientific arena that they apply specifically to anything reminding them of religion. Untested, and untestable premises abound in every field. The hypocrisy part of that fact isn't scientifically central, the fact "science" would be an unrecognizable hatchet job of itself, if the claimed criteria were actually applied to science in general, is. I prefer my scientific criteria to be such that science as we know it would still be possible if we accept it.

Having read over this thread with your various arguments, it seems like you want to offer everyone a very specific dichotomy. Either:

(1) Someone comes up with a concise description of how to "falsify" "evolution" in a Slashdot post.


(2) We must admit that "evolution" is unfalsifiable and thus "not science."

To you, these are the only options. But there is at least one more: perhaps your working definition of "science" is absolutely wrong.

I'll take this third option. You're working from a definition of science that became popular roughly 75 years ago, with the work of Karl Popper. But, the weird thing is that you (along with many people here on Slashdot) seem to love philosophy of science in this weird small window, but then everyone just ignores the insights that followed almost immediately. Basically, your idea of science, according to philosophy of science, is at least 50 years out of date.

The people who actually write on this stuff and study it specifically recognized that the naive falsificationist approach to science never actually succeeds in defining science well, nor does it explain how science worked throughout history, nor does it explain how scientific discovery happens (particularly major discoveries).

The simplest problem is: how exactly do we come up with these "falsifiable" hypotheses in the first place? There are an infinite number of crazy and stupid and wacko hypotheses, but scientists seem somehow to narrow down all the infinite number to reasonable questions that might actually advance our knowledge.

Furthermore, MOST of science is NOT actually falsifiable in the naive sense that one dude could do an experiment that shows an anomaly and we all go, "Well, OBVIOUSLY the entire Theory of Relativity is falsified" or whatever.

Established scientific theories do NOT work like this. They generally are not completely falsified, but rather amended to take into account new information and data. Thus, to use the dark matter or dark energy ideas you brought up, astrophysicists do not declare all of celestial mechanics to be falsified because of these current anomalies -- rather, we continue to work to figure out a way to incorporate an explanation of these anomalies within our current scientific framework.

From a practical standpoint, the "falsifiability" criterion is thus a red herring for major theories. It works well enough for "everyday" minor hypotheses. It does NOT describe how science in general works for just about anything else. (Even Popper clearly recognized this and spent much of his later life trying to come up with a way of adequately describing how science really works.)

Philosophers of science have come up with a number of different ways of describing how science actually works. Whether you buy into Thomas Kuhn's idea of paradigms or Imre Lakatos's idea of research programs or whatever, there are many decades of philosophers of science who have proposed better models for science based on analysis of how science has functioned historically. Naive falsificationism is just not a practical method for pushing knowledge forward.


With all that in mind, my response to you is simply that evolution is a broad concept that scientists currently used to formulate hypotheses. It's not falsifiable in the same way that dark matter didn't automatically falsify everything we know about astrophysics. Instead, we recognized that evolution and astrophysics are decent general models that do have some basis in nature (as you admit), and thus we keep refining what we know within those contexts. That is ABSOLUTELY scientific -- it's at the heart of what science does. Without setting up the parameters and theoretical assumptions for everyday science to take place, we could never narrow down investigations to a reasonable level to be able make any progress.

That said, you're absolutely right that SOME scientists go too far -- like Dawkins. You're right that we have no proof that God doesn't exist or that some beings haven't guided or moved evolution along at some point or continuously. A question of design is a common problem that, for example, archaeologists deal with on an everyday basis -- is this a naturally occurring rock, or is it an arrowhead? If we found a pocketwatch buried in Cambrian era rock, we wouldn't generally assume it came about as a result of natural processes, but neither would it falsified evolution and our understanding of the history of the earth -- instead, we'd assume that somehow a human deposited it there in some way we haven't figured out yet. We'd assume design.

You're right about that. (And I say this as someone who spent quite a while maybe 15 years ago or so reading up on ID in detail and dealing with philosophical and logical implications or it. I agree that design is an interesting issue, but I disagree that ID has succeeded in coming up with a scientific alternative to evolution.)

In general, you're wrong about what science is. And you're wrong that if we can't give a few sentences that would show how evolution is "falsifiable" that it's not science. You're right that Dawkins isn't being scientific when he acts like atheism is the only reasonable scientific outlook.

But Dawkins does have a point in that many things which have been thought historically to be "inexplicable" except through divine or supernatural intervention are now understood. He takes that as something which justifies an inductive leap to say that NOTHING is divine or supernatural. You may disagree with this inductive leap, but he does have a basis for it.

On the other hand, this whole debate has very little to do with evolution as a practical scientific matter, regardless of what Dawkins and some other minority of scientists may think. It's a framework for thinking about how to come up with testable hypotheses, and as such, it sets the core assumptions, one of which is that -- unless we have other clear evidence -- we'll look for evidence of naturally occurring genetic changes that drive evolution.

Biological structures that appear to be Irreducibly Complex, and are not yet specifically explained. One can argue as well that periods of history where massive unaccounted-for increases in genetic diversity occurred, such as the Cambrian Explosion, are also evidence, though in a less precisely-detailed way. There's two. N others may follow, presuming we maintain a degree of intellectual and scientific integrity and don't dismiss them before they're ever analyzed, because we don't like the potential implications.

The problem here is not that you're wrong exactly, but rather that you're proposing a God of the gaps idea. That is, you want to claim evolution is flawed because it fails to look for other causes beyond random genetic mutation, etc.

But what would your version of "scientific" investigation into evolution look like exactly? Scientist X says, "Well, we're trying to figure out how this change could happen by natural genetic mutation -- let's spend some time coming up with possible mechanisms." You respond and say, "Yeah, well maybe God did it. Or aliens."

Where do we go after that? So far, the examples you've provided are just about saying, "Well, we can't explain how these things happened YET -- at least to my satisfaction -- so maybe God did it." But that gets us nowhere. It doesn't advance science. If we could begin grouping a bunch of related observations together that had some sort of common characteristics and could say, "Well, a bunch of these things can't be explained by normal biological processes as we know them, but they all point to evidence of genetic material we've found on an asteroid or some other planet or whatever," then maybe we have a panspermia or even alien intelligence hypothesis to add to the mix. THAT would be science.

What you seem to be saying is "evolution can't be falsified, therefore it isn't science, therefore I want to bring in whatever random alternative assumptions and hypotheses without any actual mechanism or evidence that they exist." Dark matter has a clearly defined set of effects. We can create maps of where it should be in GREAT DETAIL. You instead point to a collective group of random apparently unrelated historical incidents and say, "Gee, we haven't figured those out yet...." There's no reason to group together your set of anomalies other than that you don't feel they're adequately explained yet.

In other words, when you have an actual detailed METHOD you can use to engage with your problematic times in evolutionary history and work toward a greater understanding of them -- and also differentiate between those which are definitely the result of your unknown designer vs. just random crap we haven't figure out yet -- when you have those things, MAYBE we can talk about your idea of evolutionary "science" (with some "designer" sometimes working or whatever) being on par with evolutionary theory.

So far, though, you're just this guy pointing to some currently unexplained phenomena in nature and saying, "God did it and we can't explain it otherwise!" Historically, most of the people who said such things turned out to be wrong. You should forgive many scientists who view your perspective with reasonable skepticism.

4 days ago

High Speed Evolution

AthanasiusKircher Re:Is that unreasonable? (280 comments)

I think you just provided further evidence to support my point.

4 days ago

High Speed Evolution

AthanasiusKircher Re:Falsifiability (280 comments)

No, again, not unfalsifiable. If you apply pressure and they don't adapt, then you falsified evolution.

No, that's absolutely incorrect. Evolution, as commonly understood, is the result of a RANDOM genetic process. Whether an appropriate adaptation will arise given selection pressure is always a matter of chance, and any given instance of a species NOT adapting isn't much evidence of anything really. By that logic, we could argue that all of the species currently going extinct due to manmade changes in environment etc. have somehow disproved evolution... which is obviously not true.

The only way to falsify it would be to a systematic study comparing pressure placed on a variety of different organisms in a variety of different circumstances -- and if you saw no adaptations (or the ones you could see could be explained by other mechanisms), THEN you might potentially falsify evolution.

4 days ago

High Speed Evolution

AthanasiusKircher Re:Is that unreasonable? (280 comments)

Is that unreasonable? If there were evolutionary pressure (ie, short people kept being killed before reproducing), and tall people got multiple mates, I could see this change happening within twenty generations.

Interestingly, we have had a MUCH faster increase in height in the past couple centuries, probably mostly due to improvements in living conditions, food supply and nutrition, and medical advances.

According to this recent study, for example, European men have gained approximately 4 inches in height in 100 years, i.e., about 4 or 5 generations.

So, it probably doesn't even require significant genetic changes to produce such a shift. I once read somewhere that n the early 1800s, the average height differential between upper-class and lower-class Englishmen was something like 7 or 8 inches (i.e., rich men were something like 8 inches taller than poor men).

4 days ago

Speed Cameras In Chicago Earn $50M Less Than Expected

AthanasiusKircher Re:Easy to solve - calibrate them to overestimate (398 comments)

No, you apparently don't. In every state I'm aware of yellow means "stop if you can". It's effectively red, but lenient enough that if you're close to it and can't stop when it appears, then you're still fine.

Interesting -- it appears you're only aware of a minority of states.

37 of the 50 states conform to the Uniform Vehicle Code, whose default policy is often known as "permissive yellow." In that case, the yellow is absolutely NOT "effectively red."

"Permissive yellow" basically means that yellow lights signal that a red light is coming, and perhaps "caution." But they are explicitly distinct from red lights -- yellow lights mean that you are allowed to enter an intersection; red lights mean you are not. It's that simple.

The remaining 13 states have various more restrictive policies that usually state something like "stop at a yellow light unless it is unsafe to do so." There are usually a few conditions under which you can still enter the intersection on yellow, and generally you can also be ticketed if you're still in the intersection when the light is red.

Whereas in "permissive yellow" states, you are still free to enter the intersection on a yellow light, regardless of conditions -- and you are generally free to clear the intersection if you are still in it when the light turns red (i.e., it's not an automatic ticketable offense).

about a week ago

Manga Images Depicting Children Lead to Conviction in UK

AthanasiusKircher Re: Moral Imperialism (474 comments)

It's perfectly reasonable for the Supreme Court to have the power to review laws and strike them down as unconstitutional.

But that's the only thing the phrase judicial review generally refers to in the U.S. The Supreme Court has no power to declare any action constitutional -- statutes are by default assumed to be constitutional because Congress is sworn to uphold the Constitution. Judicial review is specifically the power to overrule that default assumption and declare a law unconstitutional. The failure to overturn a law is merely the standard state of the judiciary, whose general purpose is to resolve conflicts within existing law. That's not "judicial review" as the term is commonly understood.

about two weeks ago

Manga Images Depicting Children Lead to Conviction in UK

AthanasiusKircher Re: Moral Imperialism (474 comments)

The very people who they are supposed to limit are the ones in charge of interpreting said limits. As soon as the supreme court gave itself the power of judicial review (despite no such power existing in the constitution), it was over.

I don't understand the logic here. The Framers intended a set of checks and balances. If the Supreme Court lacks judicial review, doesn't that mean Congress has basically unchecked power to pass unconstitutional laws? How could a set of rights last very long when the people could just elect a bunch of representatives who might ignore those rights, e.g. in a time a crisis?

SCOTUS may be far from perfect, but they did in fact hold some lines checking federal power until roughly 1936-38, after which they basically let the federal government do what it wants (except in truly egregious cases... Most of which, guess what -- involve the Bill of Rights).

about two weeks ago

In UK, Internet Trolls Could Face Two Years In Jail

AthanasiusKircher Re:Ahhhh.... (489 comments)

His use was correct. Liberals are the first to demand everyone else walk on egg shells when their feelings get hurt.

A Libertarian will be the ones trying to remove such laws.

liberal, a. and n. A. adj.: 5. Of political opinions: Favourable to constitutional changes and legal or administrative reforms tending in the direction of freedom or democracy.

Meh. This definition could basically describe just about any political party in the U.S. -- it just depends on how you define "freedom" and "democracy."

And yes, they are often at odds with each other. Majority rule ("democracy") often votes to take away or restrict freedom, especially from minority viewpoints.

If your definition of "freedom" includes things like abortion access and gay marriage (as the Democratic Party), you get to override democratic votes (even ballot initiatives voted on directly by voters) to ensure those freedoms. If your definition of "freedom" involves lots of guns (as the Republican Party), you similarly get to override legislation passed by democratic representatives to protect that freedom.

Often, the idea of "rights" are invoked to justify overriding democracy, but often (though not always) a "right" involves preserving someone's freedom at the expense of restricting someone else. Obviously this is often necessary -- for example, my freedom to go around committing murder is generally restricted to special circumstances, like times of war, because otherwise it would violate the freedom and rights of others to live.

To the issue at hand: "liberal" in the U.S. is mostly associated with Democrats, who are relatively far from the classical liberalism that your definition is mostly associated with. Classical liberalism was associated with figures from John Locke to Adam Smith, and its closest analogue in the U.S. today is something akin to libertarianism (as GP argued), though libertarianism isn't quite like classical liberalism in some ways. (That distinction is for another post.)

Democrats, on the other hand, are social liberals, who generally seem to believe that minority viewpoints and people need to protected from the tyranny of the majority in a democracy. Rather than adopting classical liberalism's philosophy that the free market and free association will just make things work out, they moved away from classical liberalism to argue for child labor laws, minimum wage laws, etc., which go against traditional free association ideals.

In recent years, as GP argues, U.S. "liberals" (i.e., mostly Democrats) have gone further in these protections for those with less power. Thus, they tend to be the most vocal proponents of affirmative action, anti-hate speech laws, harassment laws, etc.

Thus, GP was essentially correct for the U.S. at least: Liberals (in the U.S.) ARE the first to demand that everyone else "walk on egg shells when their feelings get hurt." Democrats believe they have good reasons to invoke these protections, since restricting speech and actions in these ways leads -- to them -- to a more fair and equitable society which protects those who are oppressed.

But all of this is quite far from the basic "freedom and democracy" as defined by classical liberalism in the 18th century. I'm not saying it's bad, or even arguing for any particular party or perspective. I'm just saying that this basic definition of "liberalism" is so vague that almost anyone co-opts it these days in the U.S.

about two weeks ago

Soda Pop Damages Your Cells' Telomeres

AthanasiusKircher Re:Overly broad? (422 comments)

Full disclosure: I just read the full study I linked to in my first post. At the conclusion of the article, the first author does declare that his research was in part funded by lobbyists. I didn't read this full study until now, which I only found this evening when writing my first post -- but it came up in the top hits in a search for "HFCS vs. sugar" and its abstract agreed well with what I've researched myself over the years.

So, I don't know what to say about that -- but once I noticed that, I'm coming clean and noting there was a conflict of interest with one of the two authors.

On the other hand, I've spent a lot of time in the past trying to sort through these issues, and I've come to similar conclusions as those expressed in this article. So, it sort of pains me to be somewhat in agreement with research funded by corn growers. But, once again, let me reiterate my feeling that HFCS is way overused, the excess sugar/HFCS thrown into all sorts of processed foods is a bad thing, and I wish the U.S. government would stop subsidies manipulating agriculture in bad ways (like supporting the corn lobby).

But none of this means that HFCS is so much more evil than table sugar. It's just overproduced and overused, as most sugars are these days. Obesity has risen as more "hidden sugar" has been put into more products, and HFCS has partly enabled that... that's the evil (if there is one), not some sort of weird metabolic effects so much different from sucrose or whatever.

Anyhow, downmod me and my posts if you feel it's necessary. I really was just looking for a recent study on the topic, and despite the conflict of interest, I think the article is mostly a pretty accurate assessment of the literature. (And there are other studies, some of them cited in the article, which don't have conflicts of interest and come to supporting conclusions.)

about two weeks ago

Soda Pop Damages Your Cells' Telomeres

AthanasiusKircher Re:Overly broad? (422 comments)

Troll much?

I normally wouldn't even bother to respond to this, but I just want to be sure no mods are confused.

And here's another study that's not from Yale and doesn't use a red herring to confuse people.

And yet that's precisely what you are doing: introducing a red herring, actually the specific one I addressed in my post, namely:

HFCS != pure fructose

Your study is about consumption of pure fructose. Metabolism of fructose by itself has been shown in numerous studies to be very different from how human metabolism deals with a mixture of sugars, particularly the 50/50 mixture of fructose and glucose found in honey, HFCS, and sucrose (the latter after the one main bond in sucrose is broken up very early in digestion).

And yes, eating a lot of fructose by itself seems to do weird things to metabolism. But, ya know, mixtures make a difference.

What gives you two away as shills is that you use strong, unscientific words.

Yes, "shill" isn't a strong word or anything. Look -- you have one study that's not even on the substance in question. I referred to a metastudy which considered a multitude of research on the actual topic and talked about the current scientific consensus.

I think HFCS is bad, but mainly because its use is propped up by crappy agricultural policy that supports growing too much corn for no apparent reason other than stupid lobbying. I also think HFCS consumed in excess is bad, just like consuming too much sucrose or honey or whatever.

If you know how to use PubMed, then you can't play up ignorance as an excuse.

Funny, given your ignorance of the actual substance to be studied seems to have determined your choice of citations.

Go tell your bosses at Coca-Cola or wherever that we're not buying it.

Yeah, the overall message of my previous post was -- excess sugar consumption in general is bad for you, i.e., even the Coke with cane sugar is crap, even if it doesn't have HFCS. I obviously must be a shill for an industry trying to sell sugary products with my whole "we need to consume less sugar" posts....


about two weeks ago

Soda Pop Damages Your Cells' Telomeres

AthanasiusKircher Re:Overly broad? (422 comments)

I have never seen any study suggesting that, except the single widely ridiculed Yale study. Not surprising given how nearly identical sucrose and HFCS are in the gut.

Yeah, most of the HFCS criticism is built on "natural foods" lore and wacko hysteria about chemicals. It *could* be that HFCS is worse than some other sugars, but the vast majority of studies have shown no significant difference in response to HFCS vs. sucrose.

Just to be clear what we're talking about here, HFCS is not the same as pure fructose, and a lot of the lore about HFCS compares studies on fructose with sucrose or other things, rather than HFCS. Commercial HFCS is generally either 42% or 55% fructose, and almost all glucose otherwise. Sucrose, on the other hand, is a molecule that breaks down in the first stages of digestion to 50% fructose and 50% glucose -- so, as the parent said, they are basically identical in most of digestion. (It's called "high fructose" corn syrup, by the way, because it's much higher than normal corn syrup, which has very little fructose. But acting like pure fructose and HFCS are the same thing in studies is highly misleading.)

Also, for the natural foods buffs, please note that honey is mostly fructose and glucose in almost the same concentration as HFCS, so if HFCS is bad for you, "natural" honey is probably not a solution to this problem.

For further details, here's a link to a recent (2013) metastudy that summarizes what is known. From the abstract:

[A] broad scientific consensus has emerged that there are no metabolic or endocrine response differences between HFCS and sucrose related to obesity or any other adverse health outcome. This equivalence is not surprising given that both of these sugars contain approximately equal amounts of fructose and glucose, contain the same number of calories, possess the same level of sweetness, and are absorbed identically through the gastrointestinal tract. Research comparing pure fructose with pure glucose, although interesting from a scientific point of view, has limited application to human nutrition given that neither is consumed to an appreciable degree in isolation in the human diet. Whether there is a link between fructose, HFCS, or sucrose and increased risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, or fatty infiltration of the liver or muscle remains in dispute with different studies using different methodologies arriving at different conclusions.

In general, our dietary issues are probably a result of excess sugar consumption in general. Switching from HFCS to cane sugar is probably not a significant improvement unless you simultaneously decrease overall sugar consumption.

about two weeks ago

Soda Pop Damages Your Cells' Telomeres

AthanasiusKircher Re:'Regardless of... income and education level' ? (422 comments)

My bullshit meter always starts kicking into life when the hyperbole starts flowing, like the reading comprehension or random amount of payment received having a causative effect on the function of an organic process.

Well, the other things that are mentioned here were age and race, which could conceivably have biological differences that could have an effect.

I suspect that income and education level could be relevant here as a proxy for other dietary trends. People with higher incomes tend to eat better quality food overall than poor people. People with higher education levels also tend to make different dietary choices (and are probably more likely to seek out more "natural" foods or whatever the current research is pointing toward).

So, it's not so much that these aspects are causative as that they are indicative of perhaps a wider variety of potential dietary choices. This study seems to be based on general survey data, so it's not clear that they could rule out various confounding factors, though I'd have to read the study to know for certain.

Showing the trend is consistent is at least a step toward confronting a rather obvious objection that could come up if they only looked at poor folks whose diet is already likely to have a bunch of bad junk in it (and who probably tend to consume the most soda). If they see the same effect in rich, educated folks who drink soda, then it may not be a general "poor disease" issue. (Medical studies have often been plagued by these problems if they only have subjects who are not representative of the general population.)

I'm just guessing here, but that's one reason I could imagine for mentioning this.

about two weeks ago

Brain Patterns Give Clues To Why Some People Just Keep Gambling

AthanasiusKircher Re:Or gamblers are masochists. (59 comments)

That's also why people play Powerball, they only hear stories about the people who hit the jackpot, never stories about not hitting it.

Yes, there's something I find distasteful about states running lotteries for this reason. It's basically a tax on the stupid. Sure, some people play for entertainment. But I personally have known a few lottery addicts who were poor or senior citizens, and they'd shell out literally thousands of dollars each year on lottery tickets. (If only they would invest that money instead....)

And, as I always tell people: I never buy lottery tickets, but I only have a VERY slightly less chance of winning than the addicts. In fact, anecdotally this proved true for me in the past few years -- some members of my family have bought lottery scratch tickets as stocking stuffers. I've received fewer than 10 of these over the past few years, but I've won on 4 of them... Totaling $175. The last year this happened, I had a $100 ticket (more than anyone else in the family ever got, including one person who buys tickets regularly), and someone gave me another cast off that day, and I got $20 more.

And yet, I have absolutely no desire to buy more tickets...I took the money and enjoyed it. Same thing one of the few times I was in a casino (and the only time I gambled)... My father gave me $25 to play some slot machines with, so after spending about $7, I hit $50. I gave my dad back his $25, took the $40+ profit, and I've never played again.

Thus, if you're going to gamble, I highly recommend using someone else's money. It's proven lucky for me. :)

about two weeks ago

Apple Doesn't Design For Yesterday

AthanasiusKircher Re: I don't follow (370 comments)

Sure, sure, 300 years of technology have it all wrong and a few "recent studies"

Did you even look at the link? The guy looked at something like **50 studies** from the past century or so. And there have been at least a dozen more I've seen dealing with readability in a variety of fonts since that article was published in 2008.

show one more way for hipsters to be "smarter" than everyone else.

What do "hipsters" have to do with this?

And by the way, frankly, I prefer serif fonts too for reading -- I think sans serif fonts looks stupid. (Actually I kinda dislike them in general and have been known to change my browser defaults to remedy this situation -- but my personal preference is different from what actual studies show about legibility/readability.)

To mock your most absurd claim further (your last one): you can make sans-serif letterforms distinguishable, barely, with 5x3 pixels to work with.

Yes, to mock you back: this is of course the most common usage case these days with high-res screens. :)

Look, the question is about LEGIBILITY, not ability to render. At small enough sizes, serifs can't even be placed on fonts -- you're correct. But this has nothing to with whether people prefer to read 8-point or 10-point text in serifs versus sans. And basically there some studies I've seen recently which show people to prefer serif fonts for reading at smaller font sizes and sans only at larger sizes.

But it's a small effect, and I don't know if it's actually significant -- point is, if you're dealing with enough pixels to actually display serifs, there doesn't seem to be a strong preference one way or the other. And if you have fewer pixels, serif fonts will essentially look like sans anyway, so again they're about equivalent.

about two weeks ago

Apple Doesn't Design For Yesterday

AthanasiusKircher Re: I don't follow (370 comments)

(By the way, I know it's "common knowledge" that sans serif fonts must be used on things like road signs, because they are so ubiquitous. But most of the studies on such fonts only tend to take into account point size or capital height as the standard for comparison. Factor in X-height, which in many serif fonts tends to be smaller and use at least a semibold or medium weight, and serif fonts can do just as well as sans on signs. Mostly, I think sans serif was adopted for things like signs because such things tended to be hand-lettered rather than typeset in the past, and it's easier to do sans than serifed fonts when doing hand-lettering. For headlines, sans probably was adopted because it stood out: when most printed text was serifed, a sans headline differentiated it.)

about two weeks ago



Music Training's Cognitive Benefits Could Help "At-Risk" Students

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 2 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "In recent years, emphasis on standardized testing and basic skills has forced many schools to cut back on things like arts and extracurricular activities. A study out this week from Northwestern University hints that schools may be hurting "at-risk" kids even more by cutting such programs. Just two years of music lessons were shown to have significant effects on brain activity and language processing which the researchers argue could help close achievement gaps between at-risk students and more affluent students. Aside from better brain response to language observed in the lab, practical effects of the interventions were readily apparent: 'Leaders at Harmony Project approached the researchers after the non-profit observed that their students were performing much better than other public school students in the area. Since 2008, over 90 percent of high school seniors who participated in Harmony Project’s free music lessons went on to college, even though the high school dropout rates in the surrounding Los Angeles areas can reach up to 50 percent.' Note that this is only one of several ongoing studies showing significant cognitive benefits for music training among at-risk students; an article last year from The Atlantic gives a more detailed summary of related research."

Thousands of Workers Strike to Reinstate Fired Grocery CEO

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 3 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Have you heard of Market Basket, a regional grocery chain which brings in $4 billion per year? If you're not from New England, you may not know about this quirky century-old family business, which didn't even have a website until two days ago. But that's only the beginning of its strange saga. In a story that labor experts are calling 'unique' and 'unprecedented', shelves in grocery stores across New England have been left empty while thousands of Market Basket workers have rallied for days to reinstate former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who was fired last month (along with a number of his management allies) as part of a long-standing family squabble. At a protest this morning, 6,000 protesters gathered at the Tewkbury, Massachusetts location where the supermarket chain is based, similar to rallies that have been staged at various locations over the past week. Unlike most labor protests, the workers have no demands for better working conditions or better pay--they simply want their old boss back. Reaction from consumers has been swift and decisive as well: a petition was submitted to the board this morning with over 100,000 signatures from customers calling for the reinstatement of the CEO, and over 100 local lawmakers have expressed support for the workers' cause, including the governor of New Hampshire and candidates for U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races in the region.

In an age where workers are often pitted against management, what could explain this incredible support for a CEO and member of the 0.1%? Columnist Adrian Walker from the Boston Globe described his interview last year with 'Artie T.': 'We toured the Chelsea store together... the connection between the magnate and his employees was frankly shocking. Demoulas knew almost everyone’s name. He knew the name of the guy cutting meat whose wife had just completed chemotherapy and asked about her with obvious concern. Customers came up to him and hugged him, cheered him on. The interactions were too numerous and spontaneous to be staged.' Workers at Market Basket are loyal to their employer and often stay for 20, 30, or more than 40 years. Even lowly store clerks receive significant quarterly bonuses, and experienced loyal workers are rewarded and promoted. Despite running a $4 billion per year business, 'Artie T.' over the years has shown up at countless family events for employees, even visiting sick family members of employees when they are in the hospital. But his generosity hurt the bottom line, according to other board members, who have sought for years to increase profits by raising prices and reducing employee benefits to be in line with norms at other grocery chains. (Market Basket has commonly led grocery store lists for value in regional price surveys.) As one possible resolution to the crisis, the former CEO yesterday offered to buy the entire grocery chain from other board members; this morning, the board stated they were considering the offer."

Judge Throws Out Thoughtcrime Conviction and Frees "Cannibal Cop"

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 4 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "The story is classic: Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl. Boy goes on the internet and writes about his fantasies that involve killing and eating Girl. Boy goes to jail. In this case, the man in question, NYC police officer Gilberto Valle, didn't act on his fantasies — he just shared them in a like-minded internet forum. Yesterday, Valle was released from jail after a judge overturned his conviction on appeal. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe wrote that Valle was "guilty of nothing more than very unconventional thoughts... We don't put people in jail for their thoughts. We are not the thought police and the court system is not the deputy of the thought police." The judge concluded that there was insufficient evidence, since "this is a conspiracy that existed solely in cyberspace" and "no reasonable juror could have found that Valle actually intended to kidnap a woman... the point of the chats was mutual fantasizing about committing acts of sexual violence on certain women." (A New York magazine article covered the details of the case and the implications of the original conviction earlier this year.)"

An MIT Dean's Defense of the Humanities

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 6 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Deborah Fitzgerald, a historian of science and dean of MIT's School of the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, speaks out in a Boston Globe column about the importance of the humanities, even as STEM fields increasingly dominate public discussion surrounding higher education. '[T]he world’s problems are never tidily confined to the laboratory or spreadsheet. From climate change to poverty to disease, the challenges of our age are unwaveringly human in nature and scale, and engineering and science issues are always embedded in broader human realities, from deeply felt cultural traditions to building codes to political tensions. So our students also need an in-depth understanding of human complexities — the political, cultural, and economic realities that shape our existence — as well as fluency in the powerful forms of thinking and creativity cultivated by the humanities, arts, and social sciences.' Fitzgerald goes on to quote a variety of STEM MIT graduates who have described the essential role the humanities played in their education, and she concludes with a striking juxtaposition of important skills perhaps reminscent of Robert Heinlein's famous description of an ideal human being: 'Whatever our calling, whether we are scientists, engineers, poets, public servants, or parents, we all live in a complex, and ever-changing world, and all of us deserve what’s in this toolbox: critical thinking skills; knowledge of the past and other cultures; an ability to work with and interpret numbers and statistics; access to the insights of great writers and artists; a willingness to experiment, to open up to change; and the ability to navigate ambiguity.' What other essential knowledge or skills should we add to this imaginary 'toolbox'?"

Wu-Tang Clan to Release Only One Copy of New Album

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 7 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Wu-Tang Clan's double-album The Wu — Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was recorded in secret, and they recently announced that only one copy will be sold. Wu-Tang member Robert 'RZA' Diggs described the concept: 'We're about to sell an album like nobody else sold it before... We're about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music. We're making a single-sale collector's item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.' Before the album is sold, probably for millions of dollars, it will tour the world as part of special listening exhibits. Patrons will be subjected to heavy security to ensure that no recording devices are allowed, as a single leak would spoil the artistic project. As RZA noted: 'The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years. And yet its doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.'"

A Corporate War Against a Scientist, and How He Fought Back

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 9 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Environmental and health concerns about atrazine — one of the most commonly used herbicides in the U.S. — have been voiced for years, leading to an EU ban and multiple investigations by the EPA. Tyrone Hayes, a Berkeley professor who has spearheaded research on the topic, began to display signs of apparent paranoia over a decade ago. He noticed strangers following him to conferences around the world, taking notes and asking questions aimed to make him look foolish. He worried that someone was reading his email, and attacks against his reputation seemed to be everywhere; search engines even displayed ad hits like "Tyrone Hayes Not Credible" when his name was searched for. But he wasn't paranoid: documents released after a lawsuit from Midwestern towns against Syngenta, the manufacturer of atrazine, showed a coordinated smear campaign. Syngenta's public relations team had a list of ways to defend its product, topped by "discredit Hayes." Its internal list of methods: "have his work audited by 3rd party," "ask journals to retract," "set trap to entice him to sue," "investigate funding," "investigate wife," etc. A recent New Yorker article chronicles this war against Hayes, but also his decision to go on the offensive and strike back. He took on the role of activist against atrazine, giving over 50 public talks on the subject each year, and even taunting Syngenta with profanity-laced emails, often delivered in a rapping "gangsta" style. The story brings up important questions for science and its public persona: How do scientists fight a PR war against corporations with unlimited pockets? How far should they go?"

Federal Government Surveillance of Santa Superior to Private Companies

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 10 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "This year, competing tracking services for Santa led to confusion for children worldwide. At one point on Christmas Eve, Santa was reported to be over Romania by NORAD's Santa tracker, while Google claimed he was in Madagascar at the same time. Moreover, the estimates for total toys delivered varied wildly, with Google claiming only 770 million at the same time Google estimated 2.8 billion. Veteran Santa analyst Danny Sullivan explained the discrepancies: "the precision offered by NORAD’s satellites likely is superior, offering it the ability to lock onto the position of the sleigh within a matter of inches. 'They’ve been doing it for almost 60 years,' Sullivan said.... He said Google likely relies on alternative technology, such as tracking Santa’s in-sleigh WiFi signal, causing a possible lag in showing his exact location. Sullivan also guessed that Google was using an algorithm to estimate the number of gifts delivered, while NORAD might have the ability to identify individual gifts, and perhaps even smaller items such as stocking stuffers.""

"Brain Activity" Found in a Dead Salmon Demonstrat

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  more than 5 years ago

AthanasiusKircher writes "Neuroscientist Craig Bennett used a dead salmon in his Dartmouth lab as a test object while they were evaluating new lab methods. The lab even followed proper experimental protocols, including showing the salmon photos of humans displaying various emotions. They were somewhat surprised by the results:

When they got around to analyzing the voxel (think: 3-D or 'volumetric' pixel) data, the voxels representing the area where the salmon's tiny brain sat showed evidence of activity. In the fMRI scan, it looked like the dead salmon was actually thinking about the pictures it had been shown.

Of course, the salmon wasn't actually responding to pictures illustrating human emotions. But the data manipulation commonly used in brain studies caused apparently significant patterns to appear by chance. More from the Wired article: 'The result is completely nuts — but that's actually exactly the point. Bennett, who is now a post-doc at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his adviser, George Wolford, wrote up the work as a warning about the dangers of false positives in fMRI data. They wanted to call attention to ways the field could improve its statistical methods."

The study demonstrates the potential for misinterpretation and misuse of data in brain studies, particularly as data manipulation becomes more and more complex. Bennett notes: 'We could set our threshold [of significance] so high that we have no false positives, but we have no legitimate results.... We could also set it so low that we end up getting voxels in the fish's brain. It's the fine line that we walk.'

So far the paper has been rejected for publication a number of times, but there is a poster available that was employed in a conference presentation. Recently it has been making the rounds informally in the neuroscience community."

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