Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

We are sorry to see you leave - Beta is different and we value the time you took to try it out. Before you decide to go, please take a look at some value-adds for Beta and learn more about it. Thank you for reading Slashdot, and for making the site better!



Study: Space Rock Impacts Not Random

AthanasiusKircher Re:bar-room statisticians (58 comments)

It's even worse than that. Going by this quote, they're using it to mean even or homogeneous:

contrary to what they thought, such events are not random, and these explosions may occur more frequently on certain days.

You know, like if a coin comes up heads four times in a row that's "not random".

Actually, that's not a very good analogy. The main pattern that they noticed is clustering of events over long periods of time . It would be more like if you had a coin that was weighted in such a way that it only came up heads about 1 time out of a 100 or something. You flipped it once per day.

According to normal probability, if the only thing that's influencing the coin is just its weight that produces a 1 in 100 chance of heads, the pattern of heads should look relatively homogeneous over a long time span.

Instead, what they tended to find was a lot of clustering of events -- so it would be like going for hundreds of days and then suddenly getting heads on 2 or 3 days in a row, then going again for hundreds of days without any heads again.

In that case, it would be fair to say that there is something else influencing the distribution -- it's not just a "random" distribution you'd expect for a 1 in 100 chance of getting heads. Some other factor is leading to clustering.

Just from looking briefly at the article, it doesn't seem to me that they have a long-enough timespan or enough events to claim strong evidence for a pattern. They basically come up with a 2% stat that this pattern could occur by chance -- sure, that's better than the standard 95% confidence interval for exploratory studies, but there are various statistical features of their study that could be giving them a false-positive here. But it's enough that further study may be warranted.

2 hours ago

Doubling Saturated Fat In Diet Does Not Increase It In Blood

AthanasiusKircher Re:Control the carbs and you control blood lipids (232 comments)

You know where a lot of processed foods came into vogue? -- all the "low-fat" food crazy beginning in the 1980s

There are still plenty of high fat processed foods that are very popular. Candy bars, pizza, cookies, and ice cream to name a few.

You may want to look up the definition of "a lot of." Hint: it does not mean ALL. The trend to mass produce snack foods which conformed to a low-fat diet most certainly led to more innovative and complex food processing. That in no way implies that ALL processed foods are low-fat -- only that engineering low-fat foods actually required significantly more processing in ways that could trick your body into thinking it was eating things it wasn't. Also, things like pizza, cookies, and ice cream can be made at home with relatively few ingredients which are significantly less "processed" than many of the new low-fat or no-fat snack foods designed to fit the new dietary trends of the 1980s and 1990s.

Uh, once again -- look at most snack foods. Derived from grains

Plain old grains are too boring. People are unlikely to overeat on them. In snack foods, the grains are usually combined with extra sugar, (usually) some fat, salt, and aromas.

Uh, yeah. So? When people see "grains" in the food pyramid, what do you think they're going to eat? Plain rice, plain wheat berries, plain buckwheat? No -- at a minimum, even if they got those "plain old grains," they would generally cook them and -- you guessed it -- add "some fat, salt, and aromas [spices, herbs, etc.]". Probably not as much sugar as snack foods, but most people won't eat "plain old grains" even if they are served looking like grains -- they put in salt, spices, and a few pats of butter on top.

So, I'm not sure I understand what the great distinction you're drawing here is. Snack foods "doctor up" grains to make them palatable; people do the same thing if they were to prepare grains for themselves.

In itself, grains aren't bad, as long as you eat them in moderation.

See the first point I responded to in my previous post. I never said grains were bad -- but they do provide lesser feelings of satiety, hence often requiring more calories consumed before people feel full. A diet that excludes other sources of calories and emphasizes carb sources (like grains) can have a tendency to promote more overeating. It isn't necessarily true, but the triggers are there.

Anyhow, I think you may have missed the overall point of my post, which was to respond to another posts claim that the food pyramid had no influence on obesity levels. I didn't say grains were evil. I said that the desire to emphasize grains and carb-based foods, while demonizing fats, contributed to some of the trends mentioned by GP. My whole point was that the causes are complex and may be interrelated.


Doubling Saturated Fat In Diet Does Not Increase It In Blood

AthanasiusKircher Re:Control the carbs and you control blood lipids (232 comments)

No, grain does not equal carbs. Grain has quite a bit of carbs, but also other things.

And even that is a simplification.

You probably want to re-read the beginning of my post. My whole point started with the oversimplification of the post I was responding to by claiming that the food pyramid wasn't involved in the obesity epidemic. I then proceeded to show how it might be connected, i.e., pointing out a FEW of the complex issues involved which actually show connections between various threads.

You bring up some other issues. Congratulations.


Doubling Saturated Fat In Diet Does Not Increase It In Blood

AthanasiusKircher Re:Control the carbs and you control blood lipids (232 comments)

Uh, you know, while on the surface you are saying you disagree with him, the actual content of your writing is agreeing with him.

How so? The primary claim of the post I was replying to was that the "USA's obesity epidemy ... is not from any given food pyramid." I then go on to show how the alternative explanations may actually be RELATED TO the food pyramid.

How is that agreeing with the original post?


Doubling Saturated Fat In Diet Does Not Increase It In Blood

AthanasiusKircher Re:Interesting though not to be overinterpreted (232 comments)

Before everyone jumps on the low-carb bandwagon there are a few caveats to note:

Thanks for this list -- yes, it's important to note the limitations of this study.

However, one broader issue that this study should point out is the continued stupidity of the medical profession in assuming that because the quantity of X in diet is increased, it will necessarily increase the quantity of X in one's blood or other chemical markers.

We've seen this for many years with cholesterol studies -- the body manufactures most cholesterol, so dietary consumption has little relation to blood cholesterol levels. But that hasn't stopped decades of doctors demonizing any food with cholesterol (e.g., eggs) with no actual basis. I know doctors who still give out this crap advice to focus on a "low cholesterol diet" to lower cholesterol. It just doesn't work that way for many (most?) people, and there's no reason it should.

Now we have a study showing clearly that dietary saturated fat intake does not necessarily relate to the levels that ultimately end up in the bloodstream. Once again, this is common sense -- given that the body PRODUCES fat to store energy. If you're throwing fat into a system that is capable of producing fat, you have to actually consider what causes the system to produce fat... rather than just assuming it's only about how much fat is taken into the system.

Anyhow, more studies like this will hopefully cause clueless doctors to realize this. Once again, when a system produces the vast majority of X, dietary intake of X is probably not the most important variable -- you need to figure out what regulates the production of X.

Again, this seems like an intuitively obvious element for isolating what's going on in a system with such characteristics. But it seems beyond the comprehension of medical science -- hence all of the crappy dietary advice with no proven basis.


Doubling Saturated Fat In Diet Does Not Increase It In Blood

AthanasiusKircher Re:Control the carbs and you control blood lipids (232 comments)

As a foreigner I can easily see where USA's obesity epidemy comes from and it is not from any given food pyramid:

Wow. What a complete logic failure. First off, obviously there can be more than one cause to anything. There could be a number of trends that relate to obesity problems, and dietary advice with the old "food pyramid" could in fact be one of them. In fact, it might even relate to other apparent issues.

To wit:

have you paid attention lately to the ridiculously big rations you ingest?

The food pyramid recommended lots of carbs, while downplaying things like fat. Many, many studies have shown that carbs tend to lead to less of a feeling of satiety than fats or proteins (because carbs are generally more easily digested), so emphasizing carbs tends to make people hungry more... hence, larger portions are required to feel "full."

The ridiculously high levels of processed food?

You know where a lot of processed foods came into vogue? -- all the "low-fat" food crazy beginning in the 1980s or so, which forced food manufacturers to stop using so many less-processed ingredients (which generally had things like fat in them) and instead replace them with -- you guessed it -- carbs. The grains in the big part of the pyramid grew to excess, while processing removed the fats that were claimed to be evil. While sure it is possible to consume processed foods that are not carbs, the vast majority of heavily processed foods seem to be about throwing in extra carbs to replace flavor removed by less emphasized elements in the old food pyramid.

The ridiculously high comsumption of snacks and soda drinks?

Uh, once again -- look at most snack foods. Derived from grains. I.e., carbs. Soda is generally made from sugar... derived from grain... more carbs.

Whether or not all of these are connected directly to the food pyramid, the emphasis on grains and other carbs (and avoidance of fat and excess protein, particularly high-fat protein) led to increased reliance on and production of carb-centric foods... which are definitely related to all of the trends in your rhetorical questions.

2 days ago

Top NSA Official Raised Alarm About Metadata Program In 2009

AthanasiusKircher Re:The United States is turning into Untied States (108 comments)

Maybe more because the educated class didn't get to run the place anymore and those that did get to run the place appointed their young catamites to run departments instead of people with the experience to operate effectively.

I probably shouldn't respond to a post that uses a word like "catamite" so loosely... but do you really think nepotism (which might be a better term for what you're talking about) was new to the 20th century? It was not. That sort of corruption has been around a LONG time. Incompetent friends and relatives have always been a staple of the political process.

2 days ago

Top NSA Official Raised Alarm About Metadata Program In 2009

AthanasiusKircher Re:The United States is turning into Untied States (108 comments)

Without this helping the poor capitalism would have fallen, let's be honest here.

[Citation needed] -- I mean, seriously, let's be TRULY honest: for most of history, there have been people living under much, much, much more poorer circumstances than today. And the lower classes have been much more oppressed than today. How exactly would capitalism "have fallen" just because the poor were only slightly better off than they were for -- well, all of history -- rather than MUCH better off (as they are in modern industrial societies for the most part)?

I fail to see what democracy has to do with capitalism, other than if you only see the world through skewed Marxist "lenses." And most of my post was about ancient societies, which had dynamics very different from modern capitalism. While capitalism certainly became tethered to American democracy at some point, that was an outgrowth of an older strand of (old-school) "liberalism," which would be the more accurate companion of a democratic republic as the Founding Fathers understood it.

In any case, my argument was NOT that we shouldn't help the poor, but rather that promising the poor things coupled with increased suffrage and power to the poor will likely lead to voting for politicians who might have other motives and will expand power as necessary to create their own personal vision.

For an example from the beginning of the era I'm talking about, see Huey Long, a man who seemed to want to go to extreme measures to help the poor and downtrodden -- but when he was threatened, he responded by becoming increasingly dictatorial in his governance. Long's story has many parallels with the Gracchi brothers of ancient Rome, which arguably began the big downslide in the republic.

As for all the stuff about the fundamental irrationality of people -- sure, yeah, that's true. But it's not capitalism's fault. (Not that I'm defending unbridled capitalism either.) Marxist socialism won't fix it either. It just is.

2 days ago

Aereo Files For Bankruptcy

AthanasiusKircher Re:innovation thwarted (132 comments)

A pool of antennas, slightly larger than the number of peak subscribers; it was never 1:1 antenna:subscriber -- a minor point some people don't understand.


I see so many uninformed posters here stating that people were "renting" an antenna of their very own, which was solely allocated to them permanently. While Aereo tried to claim something like that, it was never true. This was not like any "lease" or "renting" in any normal sense -- the antennas were allocated dynamically and returned to the "pool" after they had streamed for a particular customer.

Basically, customers were paying for a service -- a dynamic allocation of whatever antenna happened to be available at that time, which would then return to a pool after use. That's not "renting" an antenna. That's paying for an on-demand service. It's not significantly different from paying for any kind of streaming service that allocates part of system resources for the stream -- the only difference here is that those resources included individual antennas rather than merely individual datastreams.

2 days ago

Aereo Files For Bankruptcy

AthanasiusKircher Re:innovation thwarted (132 comments)

The cable companies did exactly this for years (with a single antenna) and paid nobody. So what was your point again?

Yes, but then the law was changed, and cable companies can no longer do this. Aereo therefore can't either. Or should we allow some companies to play by different rules because they weren't around in the "good ole days"?

So what was your point again?

(Note that I'm NOT in favor of our current system. But whatever crappy rules exist should apply equally to everyone.)

2 days ago

Top NSA Official Raised Alarm About Metadata Program In 2009

AthanasiusKircher Re:The United States is turning into Untied States (108 comments)

We call ourselves a "democratic country" but are we truly democratic?

Our government, the government of the United States of America, is behaving exactly like a tyrannical regime - in which it not only conveniently ignores the wish of the citizentry, it continues to carry out programs which are designed to undermine the validity of the democratic principles within the country

Many have argued that this is the natural tendency of democracy. Plato ranked democracy as the second-worst type of government, inevitably degrading into tyranny, since the "mob" will always eventually be swayed to vote away their power by promises from some prospective tyrant who promises them something that appeals to their immediate concerns (safety, security, food, wealth, homes, land, etc.). So, the "mob" votes away their rights in exchange for something else that seems more important at the moment.

The ancient Romans solved this problem with a special office of dictator, which was only appointed for limited times to deal with a crisis. There was a strong tradition in the Roman Republic (which held for at least a few centuries) where ambition to be a sole leader was strongly discouraged among the ruling class -- to be accused of desiring power was one of the worst sins. The topmost offices were only to be held for one short term in one's lifetime, or at least with a period of several years between, to prevent anything like a "king" or "tyrant" gaining permanent power.

But in the late 2nd century BCE, various elements were set in motion that ultimately led to the downfall of the Republic, mostly due to populist reformers who wanted to give suffrage to more people beyond the traditional "Roman citizens," and those reformers who promised the poor and landless all sorts of things. In exchange, the poor and landless broke with Roman tradition and started electing people to offices for many consecutive terms, and when crises arose, the dictators stayed in their offices for longer and longer.

Eventually, Julius Caesar came along and got himself declared dictator to deal with various things, but then arranged to become effectively dictator for life. (There's a lot more to the story, involving the gradual accumulation of power in central locations and people, standing armies who supported generals in lawless actions, etc.)

Anyhow -- the founders of the U.S. tried their darnedest to keep such a degradation from happening in the republic they designed. They were terrified of the mob (as Plato had been), and they saw the mistakes of the Roman Republic. So, they only gave the vote to those who seemed to have responsibility (male landowners, effectively similar to the heads of the ancient Greek demos, the root of democratic ideas). They isolated the upper chamber from popular election in the federal government. They deplored standing armies, preferring to rely on militias when a crisis occurred. They included even more checks and balances than the Roman Republic. In case any group of people did gain control, they built in strict Constitutional limits to federal power, so even if someone had a lot of power within the federal government, most of the powers and rights would be handled by state and local governments.

Gradually, particularly over the past 75 years or so, most of these aspects of the original governmental structure have gradually been overruled -- often in the name of "democracy" or "protecting the people" or providing aid and help to the poor through a central system.

Is it a coincidence that this also happened around the same time that the educated class stopped reading the classics? You couldn't graduate high school in the 1800s without having a level of knowledge of Latin and Greek that would probably beat out an undergraduate classics major today. And with that knowledge of ancient languages generally came a lot of readings of original sources about Roman, understanding of the Roman government structure -- and all the problems the ancient systems and philosophers were well-aware of. Anyhow, our current democracy seems to function PRECISELY as the ancient models claimed it should -- gradually devolving into a tyranny as uneducated mobs vote for whoever promises them safety, security, help for the poorest, etc....

Note that I'm NOT saying there aren't very good things about allowing people to have a greater voice in their government, and particularly finding ways to help the poorest. But lots and lots of empirical data over the course of history show that democracy (like all forms of government) has a fatal flaw... and as our government has become more "democratic," it will inevitably become easier for it to devolve into tyranny.

I'm not saying I have a better form of government. But this is to be expected.

2 days ago

Halting Problem Proves That Lethal Robots Cannot Correctly Decide To Kill Humans

AthanasiusKircher Re:I think (317 comments)

So we're cutting down the criteria to not just people carrying guns, but people carrying guns actively shooting at you?

Actually, the definition of civilian is well-defined in the Laws of War, commonly codified today in international laws by Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.

In sum, a "civilian" is anyone who is not a "privileged combatant," i.e., basically someone (1) carrying arms, (2) taking orders in an organized military structure, and (3) following the laws and customs of warfare. (Also, usually privileged combatants are required to wear insignia.)

Someone who carries arms but does not satisfy those criteria is still a "civilian," though if those arms are actively used in support of an organized military force, he/she may be a civilian who is also an "unprivileged combatant," i.e., he/she not eligible for protection under the normal rules for prisoners of war.

So, actually the criteria are much more specific than you describe. "Civilians" can fight in wars, in which case they become "combatants," but they do not cease to be "civilians," as the term is commonly understood in contrast to organized military personnel.

As for the farmer in GGP's example, he's clearly a civilian unless he's a member of a military force. If he carries a gun but only for his own protection and does not engage in direct action against an enemy, he is probably assumed to be a "non-combatant" as well, under international legal definitions.

4 days ago

Major Brain Pathway Rediscovered After Century-old Confusion, Controversy

AthanasiusKircher Re:Link to PNAS article (112 comments)

Hey, at least it wasn't Bennet Haselton telling us about it.

You just wait. Tomorrow, there will be a Slashdot headline about how Bennet Haselton believes that this "rediscovered" visual processing link in the brain explains why some people find breastfeeding photos of black women offensive. (Note that this pathway apparently has to do with how we process "visual categories.")

Oh, and this link will clearly be proven when Haselton hires a few dozen people through Amazon's Mechanical Turk to stare at the phrase "Wernicke's vertical occipital fasciculus" before seeing breastfeeding photos. His statistics will clearly prove that this knowledge of brain structure is inherently racist (or maybe it serves to debunk racism... or... heck, I don't know, but Bennet Haselton will... he always does).

5 days ago

Major Brain Pathway Rediscovered After Century-old Confusion, Controversy

AthanasiusKircher Re:Wait, what? (112 comments)

Still you'd expect people working on surrounding structures to notice something was missing in the neighbourhood. I'm really curious to know what other researchers thought when they looked at the structure.

Nothing was "missing." I'm not an expert in neuroanatomy, but just like most press releases from university research labs, this "rediscovery" appears to be quite exaggerated.

The thing they claim to have "rediscovered" is Wernicke's "vertical occipital fasciculus" (or VOF). Just out of curiosity, I just did a quick search in Google Scholar for this term, and it popped up dozens of articles, starting in the 1940s, quite a few in the late 1970s, some in the 1980s, some in the 1990s, and some in the 2000s.

For something that was supposedly "unknown" for a century, it has shown up quite a few times in the literature, particularly since the 1970s. So, it looks like some people "know" about it, and have known about it... and have discussed it in papers. A number of these studies clearly also mention processing of visual information, so it's not like these were just mentioning some old anatomical term for a structure nobody knew the purpose of either.

Granted, I haven't done a full literature search, and I don't know how influential these dozens of papers were/are, but claiming like the last time any scientist noted this part of the brain or its function was a century ago appears to be absolute nonsense. Maybe it deserves to be better known. Maybe it deserves a more prominent place in textbooks.

But clearly SOME scientists have known about it before this "rediscovery."

5 days ago

Big Talk About Small Samples

AthanasiusKircher Re:tldr (243 comments)

Absolutely not. Strunk and White's little book has probably done more to destroy knowledge of actual English grammar than any other book. The authors demonstrate again and again that they are not only completely ignorant of many concepts they are talking about, but they violate their own principles as much as they conform to them. (For a review by an actual expert in grammar, see here.)

about a week ago

Magic Tricks Created Using Artificial Intelligence For the First Time

AthanasiusKircher Re:Great plot (77 comments)

Counting cards in Vegas is already terribly simple. Robots would never be allowed in a casino.

Yes, but the point is when you have something truly intelligent, it should be able to learn completely new things. Hence, when we have an AI which was only programmed with unrelated knowledge (like card tricks), but it can figure out the necessary -- even simple -- ideas to count cards in a casino simply due to its supposedly "intelligent" algorithms, it would have demonstrated true adaptability, I.e. intelligence.

about a week ago

Machine Learning Used To Predict Military Suicides

AthanasiusKircher Re:non-issue? (74 comments)

Once corrected for age demographics (which people tallying raw numbers usually forget to do), the suicide rate in US military is lower than civilian population.

There's probably all manner of "corrections" you can do to make yourself feel all superior and to denigrate the folks actually doing the work.

Huh? How is it "denigrating" the military to note that they have a lower suicide rate than the average population? I would have thought that having a lower suicide rate would be a GOOD thing.

(By the way, I'm ignoring the fact noted elsewhere in this thread that TFA basically says the military is now approaching the average suicide rate of the general population, even though it had been less in the past. Point is -- I can't possibly see how it's an insult to note that a group has a lower suicide rate than other people.)

Rather impressive for organization whose purpose is to kill, maim and blow up shit.

Why do you think that's impressive? You think everyone who served is nothing but a suicidal maniac who wants nothing more than to "kill, maim, and blow up shit"?

Perhaps I'm being too generous to GP here, but I really have no clue where you're getting this attitude from. It sounds to me like GP was noting how stressful and violent military life can be. People who have higher stress in their jobs tend to have higher rates of depression. Groups with higher rates of depression have higher suicide rates. And let's not forget the PTSD mentioned by the AC too.

Yet, despite all of those extra stresses and likely psychological and physical problems which military personnel might encounter in the course of their violent jobs where they not only have to kill or maim but are at risk of being killed or being maimed -- DESPITE all of that, they mostly have a lower rate of suicide than the general population, and only in the past decade or so has it gone up.

As someone who has great respect for those who serve in the military and protect the rest of the population (and who has many family members who have done so), YES -- I do think that's darn IMPRESSIVE. It speaks to the character and training and fortitude of these soldiers that despite being asked to do things that cause emotional and psychological trauma, they manage to maintain enough psychological stability to not succumb to suicide as much as the average person who does not have to deal with such stress.

about a week ago

How To Anesthetize an Octopus

AthanasiusKircher Re:Ability to respond != Ability to feel (105 comments)

Something similar happened to me a couple of times. When one falls asleep the brain to muscle control parts shut down. When it does not shut down properly people sleep walk and actually do things during REM. The order in which you this part shuts down, and the part that gets stimuli-response module shuts down seems to be a little muddled for me, it looks like. Long story short, just as I was drifting to sleep, the phone would ring or something, and I would try to reach over to pick the phone, but my arms and legs would not respond. The sheer terror I felt when I could not move my arms and legs was just incredible.

This sounds like the fairly common phenomenon of sleep paralysis, which typically occurs during transitions to or from sleep. Estimates usually say that 5-10% of people experience it, but it has also been proposed as an explanation for lots of claims about ghost encounters, alien abductions, etc. Personally, I think the latter explanation makes a lot of sense. When I was a teenager, I experienced quite a few episodes of this, sometimes involving awareness of the environment around my bed (while unable to move), but with some sort of "supernatural" presence or other thing involved. I of course never thought it was actually supernatural, but rather just nightmares -- at some point I read about sleep paralysis and realized what was going on. I also learned to control it through lucid dreaming, since when it happens now I generally recognize that I am dreaming. Sometimes I will thus immediately wake up, but other times it is quite a struggle -- I end up gradually trying to flail around to get my body to move (and knowing it is a dream doesn't always get rid of the deep feelings of dread that sometimes occur).

about a week ago

R. A. Montgomery, Creator of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" Books, Dead At 78

AthanasiusKircher Re:Got you, Mrs. Sampson (80 comments)

The fact that a high school physics teacher couldn't answer the question doesn't surprise me. It isn't a high school level problem.

Perhaps not, but it's a freshman college level physics problem, and it's not all that hard at all conceptually if you understand anything about mechanics.

And, in fact, if AP physics is offered at a high school, this definitely is a high school level problem. I taught AP physics for a while years ago, and I was intimately familiar with the AP exams -- and some of the rotational problems could be quite a bit more complex than this basic conceptual problem.

It also isn't the sort of thing that would cause me to question everything that a teacher says. It simply represents a limit to the teacher's knowledge, rather than a teacher communicating incorrect information.

That's absolutely true. Teachers don't know everything -- and the good ones will admit when they don't. That's okay.

On the other hand, again as someone who has taught high school physics, this is a basic conceptual problem. Most high school teachers have degrees in their fields -- if someone with an undergraduate degree in physics can't answer this question, there's something wrong. (On the other hand, many states allow a general "secondary science" or "physical sciences" certification, in which case this teacher may not have a physics degree. But still... I don't have a physics degree, I haven't taught physics in many years, and I don't consider this a hard question.)

about a week ago

Your Incompetent Boss Is Making You Unhappy

AthanasiusKircher Re:Peter Principle (203 comments)

The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate's performance in his or her current role rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and "managers rise to the level of their incompetence."

While this is part of the story, it can get even worse under situations with a lot of pressure.

The summary says:

it does make you wonder how long organizations can afford to continue promoting incompetent bosses in today's very dynamic and competitive business world.

There are a couple misunderstandings here. First off, "very dynamic and competitive" often means a lot of small businesses simply won't succeed. So, frankly, most businesses will NOT afford it. They will fail or be bought out by a competitor.

The other problem is that in such high-pressure situations (and even in less pressured situations in the business world) promotions tend to be made on the basis of those who can demonstrate outlier positive results. Someone who makes a major advance that gives a significant sudden advantage in the marketplace will often be valued more than someone who has given consistently positive -- but more mediocre -- results for years.

The problem with promoting outliers is that they are often just that: outliers. Which means there's usually a lot of luck or "just being in the right place at the right time" involved. It's like picking a stock on the basis of which company performed best last week -- sure a 50% gain in a few days looks terrific, but is it sustainable? Or is that really just a lucky break, a weird blip in the market, a one-time shift, etc.?

Promotions can sometimes happen on the same basis, particularly when there is competitive pressure to take risks and produce an outlier result. Many will fail, but some will succeed -- and is their success due to skill, or simply due to the fact that they actually made some really risky decisions that just paid off by chance? If the latter, you've just promoted a guy because he tends to be a risky outlier, not because he actually has proven he can keep things going up steadily for years as a manager or executive.

So I absolutely agree with the parent that demotion NEEDS to be a part of corporate culture. It's the only way to weed out the statistical blips and outliers that get promoted for their chance performance, particularly in a competitive world that encourages higher risk-taking.

about two weeks ago



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

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 3 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 4 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 5 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 7 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 8 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 a year 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."

Link to Original Source


AthanasiusKircher has no journal entries.

Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?