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Physicist Kip Thorne On the Physics of "Interstellar"

Illserve Re:What would you even spend the money on? (289 comments)

It's all theory work. Money isn't the limiting factor there...

Exactly! Theory is essentially free. You just sit down and stare at a wall and maybe write some damn equations on it. There's no need to test those theories, or to even pay the utility bills for the scientists who create them. The best scientists work on a pro-bono basis because they have transcended the need to eat, sleep, or pay their staff a living wage.

about three weeks ago
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Elon Musk Warns Against Unleashing Artificial Intelligence "Demon"

Illserve Re:Friendly AI (583 comments)

If we want friendly AI, the key may be to ensure that the AI has more positive associations with people than neutral or negative associations. Mistreat a dog or a cat its entire life and it probably won't be friendly toward people. Mistreat people when they're young and you make it harder for them to trust others, feel a sense of community, or recognize any duty to society (which might explain why so many nerds find libertarianism appealing). Why would an AI be different?

That's not a reliable solution actually, since a sophisticated AI would be able to modify its own programming.

See also: Robocop.

about 2 months ago
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The Physics of Space Battles

Illserve Re:There Ain't No Stealth In Space (470 comments)

This leads me to wonder if a good space based weapon wouldn't be to just dump heat into an enemy ship and cook the people inside without worrying about punching through the armor. If you can exceed their ability to radiate heat, wouldn't that cook them fairly quickly?

about 3 months ago
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How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything

Illserve Re:Botched understanding of science? (795 comments)

Science is the means by which we know what is true

Almost. Science is the way by which we find things which are false.

Almost almost: Science often progresses by finding which things are false (that is the method of Null Hypothesis Testing), but the ultimate outcome is learning which things are true through this process.

about 3 months ago
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How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything

Illserve Re:In lost the will to live ... (795 comments)

I hear what you're saying but I think that you're a bit off target because you're ignoring the complex realities of living in a world where there is so much scientific knowledge.

Just because I do not understand at a subatomic level how an LED works, this does not mean that my belief in its ability to light up a room is a magical one. It is sufficient for me to believe that SOMEONE on this earth knows how it works, and that if, given a few years, I could learn this knowledge for myself. Whether something is magic or science is not a function of whether the information concerning its function currently resides in my head, but rather that it exists somewhere in the world, and could, in principle, be learned, if time were no obstacle.

For example, tell me this: imagine that a person used to understand the principles of flight, but is now in their 90's and has lost that information. Has their belief in airplanes switched from science to magic?

Disclaimer: I am a scientist. I have been running experiments and creating models for years. I have over 30 publications in peer-reviewed journals.

about 3 months ago
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How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything

Illserve The article is more extreme than the summary (795 comments)

I read the summary and thought that this article might be on to something, but on reading it I don't think the author really understands science at all.

Here are some excerpts that I find particularly disagreeable:

"Science is not the pursuit of capital-T Truth. It's a form of engineering "

Absolutely not. Science is indeed in pursuit of Truth. The author criticizes Aristotle's form of "research", quite rightly, but then throws the baby out with the bathwater when he says this.

"Because people don't understand that science is built on experimentation, they don't understand that studies in fields like psychology almost never prove anything, since only replicated experiment proves something and, humans being a very diverse lot, it is very hard to replicate any psychological experiment."

This is factually incorrect. There are many Psychological phenomena that can be reproduced reliably. The Stroop effect, the Simon effect, visual illusions..

"What distinguishes modern science from other forms of knowledge such as philosophy is that it explicitly forsakes abstract reasoning about the ultimate causes of things"

This is completely incorrect. A core goal of science is to understand the cause of things by developing abstracted understandings of them (i.e. theories).

I know nothing about this author, but from the article, I suspect that he is trying to reconcile his beliefs in science and religion by convincing himself that science cannot answer the big questions, it's just for making airplanes and computers. I could be wrong of course (--- very important scientific principle)

about 3 months ago
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US Government Introduces Pollinator Action Plan To Save Honey Bees

Illserve Re:For a First Step (143 comments)

Fact check your facts. Your second link's researcher was funded by Bayer

You've discounted one of the linked articles (for a reason I understand but don't entirely agree with). What about the other? Does finding a reason to discount one piece of data allow you to discount all of it, in your opinion?

 

about 6 months ago
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US Government Introduces Pollinator Action Plan To Save Honey Bees

Illserve Re:For a First Step (143 comments)

One word of caution about proclaiming the involvement of these pesticides in bee deaths is recent findings that these pesticides are not found in the reproductive regions of plants:

http://entomologytoday.org/201...

Here's another study from last year which found no link between pesticides and bee deaths:

http://www.producer.com/daily/...

It's a popular and appealing story, but recent data suggest that it may not be true!

about 6 months ago
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Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans As Antarctic Ice Melts

Illserve Re:Translation... (784 comments)

Also, don't you understand how competitive science can be? For the time being we're stuck with anti-competitive oligopolies in oil and banking and several other industries. But not in science. If a few scientists had good evidence that Climate Disruption was wrong, do you suppose they would keep quiet and maintain the front? No way! They'd all be scrambling to publish first. It'd be a bombshell, like figuring out how to build a usable quantum computer and breaking many and perhaps all of our public key encryption schemes.

Sadly this last point you make isn't true at all. Speaking as a scientist I can point to quite a few cases where a scientist who could clearly prove that the establishment was wrong were ignored and ridiculed.

The best example is Ignaz Semmelweis, who could easily prove that washing his hands prior to surgery or delivering babies led to fewer fatalities. He was mocked by the scientific community, and eventually institutionalized and beaten to death.

I wish that science functioned differently but it doesn't. Therefore one cannot conclude that there is a huge incentive to disprove global warming. Such a paper is actually quite hard to publish, and even if published such a finding could easily disappear, silently ignored, into the oblivion of our vast scientific literature.

about 7 months ago
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The Koch Brothers Attack On Solar Energy

Illserve Re:Ad hominem. It doesn't matter who says it. (769 comments)

I don't know where the GP got the 3-times figure, (which seems way too high), but there is little doubt that Germany's renewable energy policy has caused significant problems for consumers, and ironically, may end up increasing overall CO2 emissions now that new coal-plants are being brought online to patch the inadequacies of the renewables.

Here is a link:
http://www.spiegel.de/internat...

 

about 8 months ago
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The Koch Brothers Attack On Solar Energy

Illserve Re:Buggy whips? (769 comments)

Actually what is happening in Germany is a not an entirely rosy picture for the renewables industry. Their energy prices have been spiking, while simultaneously CO2 emissions have been increasing as a consequence of their new policies.

As evidence of the uncomfortable position that German is now in, their Vice Chancellor is reported to have said :

“The truth is that the Energy U-Turn (“Energiewende”, the German scheme aimed at pushing the “renewable” share of electricity production to 80 % by 2050) is about to fail”
“The truth is that under all aspects, we have underestimated the complexity of the “Energiewende”
“The noble aspiration of a decentralized energy supply, of self-sufficiency! This is of course utter madness”
“Anyway, most other countries in Europe think we are crazy”

Unfortunately my German is too rusty to confirm this for myself, but here's the video feed if anyone is interested in seeing it:

http://www.1730live.de/sigmar-...

about 8 months ago
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IPCC's "Darkest Yet" Climate Report Warns of Food, Water Shortages

Illserve Re:It's the end of the world as we know it (703 comments)

That's precisely the problem. The warming isn't going to cause much of a problem for most people old enough to post here. By the time the problems get too bad to ignore, we're already committed to even more problems, because the excess carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. That's why we keep getting these warnings, so we can avoid those problems before it's too late.

You are aware, I trust, of these things called plants. It turns out that they absorb carbon dioxide right out of the air. What's even cooler is that the more CO2 that's in the air, the faster they grow and thus the faster they absorb it. This is why greenhouses will often run with drastically increased CO2 levels.

about 9 months ago
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This Is Your Brain On Magnets — Or Maybe Not

Illserve Re:"These images are not snapshots"? No kidding. (59 comments)

...and yet, it does. It's become so routine, so reliable, so well-understood and well-controlled, that doctors and researchers know they can rely on it as a matter of course. They still have to be aware of the errors and distortions that can arise, but that's true of every imaging or monitoring system, all the way down to the stethoscope and the fever thermometer.

The problem with the activation maps is precisely that one is NOT looking at an image, so there's no way to fine tune the algorithms. Therefore, fMRI is NOT well understood in the way that CT or MRI are.

Consider that in imaging, you have the luxury of comparing the output of a brain scan to the known physical structure of the brain. Is there a hippocampus? No? Well then it didn't work, go back and fiddle until you can show me a hippocampus.

In fMRI, apart from low level sensory corticies (where visual field mapping techniques can reproduce broad level retinotopic maps), researchers are operating in a vacuum in which there is no hard and fast error signal to fine tune the methods.

Science has to proceed very cautiously in such a situation. This is particularly true when one has hundreds of thousands of voxels to sift through because it's easy to find any pattern in noise, if you have enough noise.

So I would argue that fMRI offers a very different set of challenges compared to MRI and CT scans, and therefore it's very important to keep a sharp, critical eye on the statistics used, as these authors are doing.

To illustrate this point further, here is a link to a poster in which someone put a dead salmon into a magnet and found that (in the absence of proper statistical controls) its decomposing brain was apparently reacting to the emotional content of pictures:

http://prefrontal.org/files/posters/Bennett-Salmon-2009.pdf

more than 5 years ago
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Antarctic Ice Is Growing, Not Melting Away, At Davis Station

Illserve Re:polar region climate change (633 comments)

These are really complicated systems, and one of the reasons we model them is that they're too complicated for any one person to understand every single aspect; models are a sane way to integrate the results of studies requiring disparate expertise (or at least different people).

I am a modeller, and I simulate the brain a system which is also mind bogglegingly complicated.

The secret ingredient that makes modelling work as an enterprise is the ability to make predictions, and then test them through experimental manipulations. The reasoning is that if your model captures a gem of truth, then it should be able to accurately predict data that you as the experimenter haven't seen yet.

Or at least, that's the theory. The ugly truth is that even in brain science that's a standard which is rarely lived up to.

And the situation is bound to be worse with modelling in climate science. One cannot even perform experiments because we don't have multiple earths to play around with.

So, while modelling is a way for scientists to explore theories and communicate, as you indicate, I fear that the climate modelling process is fundamentally bankrupt because it's impossible to run experiments for the purpose of testing models.

They do make pretty pictures though. A video of a virtual earth turning from blue to orange is extremely compelling!

more than 5 years ago
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Antarctic Ice Is Growing, Not Melting Away, At Davis Station

Illserve Re:Temperature (633 comments)

He also claimed that the winters would become _shorter_, and I assume the summers then would also be warmer.

You assume it? If the poles are made colder by warming in the winter, why do you get to assume it works differently in the summer?

I feel like I'm being sold a conspiracy theory.

more than 5 years ago
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Antarctic Ice Is Growing, Not Melting Away, At Davis Station

Illserve Re:Temperature (633 comments)

So your counter argument that an observed weather phenomenon on the opposite side of the planet casts into doubt the mountain of data that the north pole is losing its sea ice (to the detriment of Polar Bears) is scientific?

Did the GGGP of this post not just say that global warming causes COLDER poles?

How can I possibly debate this issue with you or anyone else when the climate change camp gets to count both warmer and colder temperatures at the poles as favorable for their position?

It's an impossible position you've put your opponents in; none of the evidence counts against you.

more than 5 years ago
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Antarctic Ice Is Growing, Not Melting Away, At Davis Station

Illserve Re:Good data point, does not reverse slope of line (633 comments)

But all the "global warming doesn't exist people" are going to jump on this like every bit of news about cold weather to claim it contradicts the idea that there's global warming, which it doesn't.

Global warming advocates are quick to leap on any image of an ice shelf falling into the water as if it supports the idea that there's global warming, which it doesn't.

more than 5 years ago
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Antarctic Ice Is Growing, Not Melting Away, At Davis Station

Illserve Re:Temperature (633 comments)

You must take into account water/air circulation in the whole system at the very least too. Or choose to take the the butterfly or shit happens explanations.

What is clear to me is that our understanding of atmospheric dynamics is so awful (and rightfully so, it's complicated), that an explanation can be cobbled together using pesudo atmospheric lingo to explain any set of data as a result of man made influence.

The truth of the matter is that we don't really know what's going on. But that doesn't stop many people from boldly claiming that "X causes Y" with undeserved confidence.

What's also unscientific about this process is the way that the GW movement latches onto emotionally appealing icons to make their case (e.g. Polar bears, Katrina)

more than 5 years ago
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Antarctic Ice Is Growing, Not Melting Away, At Davis Station

Illserve Re:Temperature (633 comments)

So from global warming we can actually expect colder winters at the poles.

Truly this is a theory that cannot be disproven.

When we thought the poles were melting, the infamous pictures of a wet polar bear on a little ice shelf were everywhere and we were told that this was the direct result of warming.

So now it seems the global warming theory can have its ice and melt it too.

more than 5 years ago
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Crackpot Scandal In Mathematics

Illserve Re:I don't get it (219 comments)

Actually,it can take researchers YEARS to debug a very complex proof of something like the Riemann hypothesis. To begin to understand the proof, even a Riemann scholar might need to first learn entire fields of mathematics.

I've heard it said of de Branges at Purdue that there are few people capable or willing to confirm his work because of the difficulty involved.

about 6 years ago

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