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Human Language May Have Evolved To Help Our Ancestors Make Tools

williamhb Re:In other news... (154 comments)

Yes, this is how science works. It is obvious that talking will help people make flint tools. We all know that. But how do we know that? Saying 'it's obvious' is not helpful. It is also obvious that you can get better at making tools when you can watch someone who is good at it. But you can get plenty of people how have never chipped flint tools, and see how much better they are when they watch someone, when they mutely interact with someone, and when they talk. Some gifted people can pick up musical instruments just by watching, but making flint tools seems to be helped a lot by language.

The article also says that this is suggestive, but could not be considered a proof. They know they have not got ancient people to experiment on. It is not practical to try the same tests with a mammoth hunt. It's not a time machine, but we use what we have.

No, it's how junk science works -- where you conduct an small and very badly flawed experiment, dominated by an effect that has been very well known in the literature for 30 years, but then claim the experiment is "suggestive" of a grandiose conclusion that the experiment clearly doesn't support in order to garner some publicity for yourself from journalists.

The researchers found the "exciting" result that the groups that received more feedback in their instruction performed better, and the group that received detailed feedback using whatever means the teacher deemed appropriate performed really well. Frankly, they could have had this "excitement" in 1984 if they'd read the educational research literature first -- the impact effects of better feedback on learning have been very well known for a very very long time, studied on wider groups over longer periods of time (not some toy 25-minute one-time task). Bloom's "two sigma" paper would have been a good place for them to start reading, and they'd have found plenty more. Only they're less exciting because they don't then tack on a grandiose claim about the evolutionary origins of instruction.

I may sound curmudgeonly, but widely-publicised science stories where some small externally invalid experiment "suggests" a grandiose conclusion reduces science to the level of QI anecdotes.

You know Beveridge's law of headlines? Here's Billingsley's law of science headlines: if a science story headline says something "may have" [followed by a grandiose claim] then it almost certainly didn't -- if the experiment had produced enough evidence to support that conclusion, the headline would say "did".


about two weeks ago

Amazon's Luxembourg Tax Deals

williamhb Re:Tax collection for hire (200 comments)

Quite the contrary. It's not a bug it's a feature. The kind of deal Amazon was able to strike with Luxembourg is an important defense against overly greedy countries (like the U.S.) which try to tax more than they should be entitled to. Note that the story says this is only about non-U.S. earning. Why should the U.S. be entitled to taxes on non-U.S. earnings?

"Amazon EU ended up paying 0.5 per cent tax." So by your reckoning a tax rate of any higher than 0.5% is unwarranted government greed? I think you misunderstood what people mean when they talk about "the 1%" - it ain't supposed to be their tax rate!

about 3 months ago

Amazon's Luxembourg Tax Deals

williamhb Re:What was quote about Internet and censorship? (200 comments)

I'm sure you'd complain too if you had to pay $300,000,000 out of $1,000,000,000.

Paying 30 cents for a dollar doesn't seem like a lot... but $300,000,000 is quite a bit.

Tax rates are too high. This is why corporations evade them: so they can stay alive.

No, I think I'd be too busy sipping pina coladas on a beach somewhere to complain about much of anything if had $700 million after tax!

about 3 months ago

Amazon's Luxembourg Tax Deals

williamhb Re:jury (200 comments)

They're just playing the game that's being played, they all do it. For example: Apple's Tax Strategy

No, much of their local competition in book sales etc (not being international companies with multiple subsidiaries in the EU) are not doing this. Apple etc's competitors are generally multinationals who also play these tricks. But in many cases Amazon's are not, and the effects of tax abuse are that much more problematic as they don't only affect tax revenue but also distort the market.

about 3 months ago

Black Swan Author: Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin

williamhb Re:Nonsense. Again. (432 comments)

Except not even that will happen.

A gene is a protein. As a protein it will be broken down and digested or passed out the other end, and thus poses zero threat.
No genes enter your body when you eat something, GMO or not.

A gene encodes a protein, but there's plenty of occasions where ingestion of particular proteins has very serious consequences (and even in cases we already know about with longer periods before diagnosis is possible than GMOs are tested over before release). For example., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm...
Secondary effects from things those proteins in turn produce are also problematic. The issue is that whereas with selective breeding we have the capacity to wreck one crop (and then, as noted in the original article with various factors making that less likely over time than GMO even in a single species), with GMO we are in a position to pollute all our food crops at once with something we later discover was harmful after all.

about 3 months ago

Creationism Conference at Michigan State University Stirs Unease

williamhb Re:Why at a place of learning? (1007 comments)

But the second that you try to set policy based solely on your religious beliefs, you are foisting them on other people who might have different religious beliefs (or no religious beliefs at all).

All public policy is based on a set of beliefs. Even without the words "under God" explicitly following them, "all men are created equal" is nonetheless a bold and essentially anti-empirical statement of faith and philosophy about the condition of mankind. (That person over there may be richer than me, that one stronger, and that other one may well be more talented -- but anti-empirically I happily declare that we are equal.) In this case it happens to have very protestant characteristics, eschewing empirical notions of value (e.g., meritocracy that this one might be better than that, or utilitarianism that so-and-so might be thrown under the bus for the good of the many) as well as other religious views (e.g., karma or that status is somehow earned through piety or betterment) in favour of a view that we are equal regardless of our past, position, or characteristics (a grace not works viewpoint). And yet there it is underpinning our notions of individual liberty, one-person-one-vote, freedom of speech, etc. And consequentially underpinning many of our laws and aspects of our government.

Back to the topic, though, one of the principles of universities is that discourse is unconstrained. Discussion is open and (with the exception of illegal personal abuse) people are free to express views, not just free to express views that we authorise.

about 3 months ago

Black Swan Author: Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin

williamhb Re:Nonsense. Again. (432 comments)

Yes, the modern gene-splicing is much safer. Do you know that wheat lost most of its protein content due to selective breeding? Maize lost most of its fat content due to a genetic error (so its wild predecessors are much healthier).

If the same happened to a GM food then it'd be banned quicker than you can say "paracetomoxyfrusebendroneomycin".

"Excuse me sir, we've just discovered that ingestion of this particular GMO-introduced gene over a twenty year period causes a serious medical condition."

"Well, Jenkins, hop to it, ban foods containing that gene faster than you can say 'paracetomoxyfrusebendroneomycin'!"

"Right-o, sir. It's a popular and useful GMO gene, so we'll be banning the now-dominant varieties of wheat, corn, barley, maize, oats, rice, soy, lentils, tomato, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, alfalfa, spinach, kale, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, parsnip, turnip, most varieties of squash, citrus, apples, and pears, most stonefruit, and about half the varieties of berries. I'll send out the notice right-away."

"Actually, I feel like some lunch first. Care to join me? Where would you like to head."

"Hmm, thinking about that list. There's a good field opposite. You do like grass, don't you sir?"

about 3 months ago

Drought Inspires a Boom In Pseudoscience, From Rain Machines To 'Water Witches'

williamhb Re:1st post (266 comments)

That might actually be useful if 1. The person being searched believes it works. 2. The person doing the searching knows how to read the expressions and gestures of the person being searched.

I imagine it's useful to the policeman without either -- the suspect just has to believe they're using it (not that it's effective). In tense areas, people being searched can be very suspicious of why they were chosen to be searched -- whether they were targeted because of their ethnicity, etc. "It's just this device picked up a trace of something; it's probably nothing..." is possibly a very useful answer to the policeman, even if the device itself is garbage. Surely they'd rather the people they searched left cursing the useless device than left cursing the policeman.

Not a particularly noble reason for them to want it, though.

about 5 months ago

Apple's Diversity Numbers: 70% Male, 55% White

williamhb Re:Apple is committed to transparency, (561 comments)

"Apple is committed to transparency"

The next iPhone's going to have a translucent backplate.

about 5 months ago

UK Users Overwhelmingly Spurn Broadband Filters

williamhb Re:It's mostly a nuisance (115 comments)

If those filters blocked only porn and gore... instead, they block innocuous things ...

The survey designers really should have known that including the words "porn" and "naked" in the text of the online survey form was a bad idea...

about 6 months ago

States That Raised Minimum Wage See No Slow-Down In Job Growth

williamhb Re:Crazy (778 comments)

The automation at least gives the benefit of hiring engineers, but far less engineers are hired than the large number of low wage workers who are fired.

You know, we could solve all these problems with unconditional basic income sufficient to live tolerably on.

It doesn't need [on its own] to be sufficient to live tolerably on to have a positive effect. And that's just as well because getting it in-place in one go would a political impossibility. Oddly you're more likely to get there through the right of politics than the left. The first step would need to be something like Universal Credit (replace means-tested benefits with a universal payment), only hopefully without its bugs and teething problems. The right tend to support these policies because they lower the incremental effective tax rate (after loss of means-tested benefits are taken into account) for part-time workers, giving them a stronger incentive to take on more hours. (Increasing workforce participation is a big issue for the right.) But if you extrapolate it over time (fold in more benefits, gradually increase the rate to approximately minimum wage levels), you get a situation that looks fairly attractive -- people's basic needs are heavily subsidised without question (strong enough safety net that the community sector comfortably fills any gap), reduced financial pressure means you can do work you regard as valuable rather than necessarily lucrative (e.g. being a carer becomes viable as a career while making ends meet), nonetheless there is still a strong incentive to work, and the size of the state itself can be reduced (as it is only in the business of enabling you to take services, not of providing those services itself).

The biggest threat is the leftist push to means-test everything, which reduces the incentive to work and means it'd never get over the barrier.

about 6 months ago

States That Raised Minimum Wage See No Slow-Down In Job Growth

williamhb Re:Local testing works? (778 comments)

Here's the test - can you decline to pay the fee, and therefore to use the service? No? It's a tax.

Can you decline to use the service? Can you decline to use the economic benefits from having interstate highways? Can you decline to benefit from having clean water and safe food?

So you're saying my lunchtime sandwiches should be paid for by taxpayers rather than a user-pays fee (me buying them)? Wowsers. Socialists in America go further than I thought!

[other poster]

Education is critically important, yes, which is exactly why we need a competitive market for it

That's not quite it. The problem with social education is that it usually means "the majority" dictating what your education must be like, and you end up with schools under bloated regulation run at a distance by a lowest-common-denominator bureaucracy (the school has little policy freedom, and often cannot even hire or fire its own staff). The majority-decreed form becomes free while anything else becomes very expensive [either through fees or the housing price of living in catchment]; and then if non-state options do better than the state ones [eg, private and church schools in England] you get social campaigns to try to ban them or bring them under state control too. Voucher systems, academies, or charter systems (the naming varies) whereby education does not compete on price but are driven by the school's community rather than by the state, and where you are free to choose your school, seem to be a neat way of bringing choice and deregulation to the state system, but are still young -- the private and state systems have had about 150 years head start on them getting developed.

about 6 months ago

Australia Repeals Carbon Tax

williamhb Re:it is the wrong way... (291 comments)

Not true ?

I am pretty sure I paid less tax and Wikipedia thinks I did too : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

What is the source of your information ?

You're wrong both times.

If you're looking for the income tax rates, go to the ATO, where you will see they are unchanged from previous years.

But in your previous post you claimed that:

As part of the carbon tax package, income tax was reduced, particularly for low income earners as a kind of compensation for the increase in cost of living caused by the carbon tax. The new government is raising those income taxes again, despite promising not to raise taxes.

In May 2013, The previous government's Climate Change minister, Greg Combet deferred those tax cuts even past 2015 when they were originally scheduled to come in. And it is those tax cuts, which had never been implemented that the current government is repealing.

about 6 months ago

People Who Claim To Worry About Climate Change Don't Cut Energy Use

williamhb Re: No real surprise (710 comments)

I believe in science based policy...

I don't understand why people like you are against market solutions: Simply make polluting more expensive than not polluting and the problem will go away.

You say you believe in science based policy, but then you say "simply...". Sadly, so far we have unfortunately little science on how policy impacts on carbon emission. We do know that it can on occasion create false markets for wind and solar (lots of wind and solar installed, lots of people happy to buy the carbon credits awarded for all that solar and wind and everyone cheers, except the output variability means the coal stations aren't turned down significantly and essentially just as much carbon gets pumped out of their chimneys as yesterday). We have very little idea (yet) of whether we can actually make policy genuinely reduce carbon output rather than just enabling ineffectively designed projects to skim money from the incentives.

about 6 months ago

New Microsoft CEO Vows To Shake Up Corporate Culture

williamhb Re:Manager (204 comments)

Microsoft pretends to reinvent itself regularly, but one thing remains constant through the decades: Their goal has unswervingly been lock-in from top to bottom

Essentially every for-profit company has the "unswerving" goal of lock-in. Google wrote Gmail to make search "stickier" (your data tunes their search responses to you, not their competitors), the Play Store is to make Android stickier (both to you and the handset makers) because you'd have to re-buy your apps and videos if you switched, and the handset makers would lose easy access to the Play store if they didn't also preinstall Gmail, Google Now, and the Google branded apps on their phones. Your printer only works with cartridges from its manufacturer. iTunes and Apple's unique connector make using their devices stickier (as you'd need to re-purchase everything from your iPod alarm clock to your song library to easily move to a competitor). GitHub uses their own pull request mechanism, rather than the mechanism Linus Torvalds built into git, making it easier to work with other GitHub repos rather than git repos on any competing site (lock in the forks, and make the GitHub network stickier).

It is a simple fact of life that every company you do business with tries to come up with a way to defend their customer-base against competitors (or gets crushed by someone with deeper pockets outspending them until they've taken over the market as soon as they start to be successful).

about 6 months ago

When Beliefs and Facts Collide

williamhb Re:CAGW is a trojan horse (725 comments)

They aren't "fudging" numbers. This is climate data, it's HARD to deal with. You're talking about millions, even billions of measurements over periods of centuries. There are more moving parts to this data than you can possible conceive of.

Indeed, and this is a problem when science tangles up with politics. Here we ware saying it's hard to deal with and requires quite a lot of corrections and processing, while the left of politics runs a coercive campaign that you should be called a pariah if you are not convinced by our data and therefore their policies. In science, our credibility is dragged under far more by agreeing politicians trying to co-opt us than by political opponents disagreeing with us. (Disagreement is part of the process; but being dragged into a sharp tongued campaign about why you must vote for higher taxes on big business or otherwise you're a horrible person is not a part of science, and makes us look like a bunch of corrupt fudgers trying to raise our grant funding by cosying up to the left). To a great deal of the public, environmental movement is not the rebel alliance, but Moff Tarkin trying to tighten his grip.

And companies that make profits off of fossil fuels have armies of people scouring their data for the tiniest errors. Surprise surprise they find some on occasion.

This is essentially irrelevant. I work in a less controversial discipline, but if someone finds a flaw in one of my papers, "but you were paid by someone to look for it" would not remove the flaw or change how I should address it. Fossil fuel companies are paying people to scour science for errors -- excellent, good on them, it will help us improve the quality of our publications. So far as the public discussion is concerned, however, it is not the fossil fuel companies whose reputations are in questioned (everyone already thinks Big Oil is a bunch of rotters) so pointing accusing fingers at them does us much more harm than good.

when they can explain historical data that contradicts the theory...

It doesn't. It's dead on.

That's a rhetorical dodge. The models are based on historical data, and are a moving target, so just stating that the historical data concurs with our latest models is hardly surprising. The question, which is not answered so simplistically, is whether our computer models are overfitted or properly predictive. (Hopefully the latter, but we seem never to make that clear in these sorts of discussions.)

As it is, he fudging is so blatant that "climate science" is nothing of the sort...it's a Trojan horse for the same lod tired leftist government takeoff of economies. That trick never works.

Plenty of scientists are republicans or even further right. Yet, less than 10 (that's ten0 out of hundreds of thousands, disagree with the simple finding that humans are altering the average global temperature of the planet.

You're misreporting that rather badly. A small proportion of climate scientists disagree, but plenty of other scientists do. Vastly more than 10 (no I'm not going to "out" my colleagues, but yes I do personally know plenty). It's very important not to misrepresent the views of the field as being the views of everyone in every other field too. Otherwise it seems like we're dishonestly trying to gloss over the selection factor (if you've taken up a career in that part of science over any other, you probably think it's important).

Either all the wind turbine makers and solar panel manufacturers have a hell of a lot more money than we thought and are using it to bribe the scientific community on a scale unprecedented in human history, or we really do have a problem.

The problem we have, particularly as scientists, is that the political left has tried to co-opt us. Academics are naturally a little left-leaning (more of the free marketeers among us go into industry labs than universities), so too many of us have let them get away with this. The right of politics is centred on individual freedom from the state; the left is centred on collective action and solidarity (more publicly funded services and redistribution). The left is politically dependent on applying social pressure that you as an individual ought to be a part of collective action. "For the sake of the planet" is an emotive and strong argument from that angle, so the left side of politics has taken it up, all guns blazing. "For the sake of the planet" we must raise taxes on the industries we collectively disagree with and subsidise those we approve of. "For the sake of the planet" individual transportation (cars) must be economically discouraged and collective transportation (public transportation) subsidies must increase. "For the sake of the planet" the state (collective action) must spend more to employ people in science and environmental management, while private investment (for-profit corporate labs and private land ownership) must be distrusted and discouraged... We have become the tool of choice for the left to argue for greater control of the economy by the state. And it has been at the cost of science's credibility as an apolitical endeavour.

about 7 months ago

When Beliefs and Facts Collide

williamhb Re:Not surprising. (725 comments)

Paraphrase the statement as those you are trying to convince are likely to, and you'll see why we're stuck: 97% of people who earn money from conducting climate science think what they do is terribly important. The problem is not the vested interests in industry; the environmental movement shot itself and climate science in the foot. The debate shifted from science to politics the moment we insisted that the public "must" believe us and tried to enforce "believing in climate change" as a social requirement (you're not one of those reprehensible deniers are you?). Science is a practice, not a campaign that if you disagree with what we say you must be called dirtier and dirtier names until you give up and agree with us so we'll stop insulting you. Unfortunately, those mistakes have already been made -- like it or not, climate science is no longer viewed as independent. As practitioners, we (scientists in general) are hugely dependent a large state (public funding of our jobs), and climate scientists started campaigning, associating themselves with activism, and then (mostly non-scientist) activists started to pour out invective at the public and at opponents for questioning us or disagreeing with us. And frankly we might as well have hung out a shingle saying "Pay us or we'll make you sorry" for all the credibility good it did us.

about 7 months ago

EU May Allow Members Home Rule On GMO Foods

williamhb Re:I actually read the article... (272 comments)

The bounds I defned do NOT make the experiment externally invalid.

Of course they do. Comparing two GMO strains (and by the way you haven't defined what you're comparing about them) tells us nothing whatsoever about the key policy issue -- which as I have pointed out several times is the understanding and mitigating the risk of a hypothetical gene being introduced into multiple species, that appears in the short term to test as being safe, but then turns out to have pernicious long-latency health impacts. Naively comparing two strains provides zero information on that.

A scientist does not talk about vague subjects without defining them in a scientific manner. ...
1. I talked to my academic friends about it and your explanation shocked them with its stupidity.

Perhaps you did not explain it to them well, or perhaps you just made them up. Either way, you're blathering with pejoratives rather than engaging in reasoned discourse, which I will take as a signal that you are not up to discussing the matter further or gleaning aspects of the issue that clearly you have not thus far grasped. Perhaps your "academic friends" would be interested in discussing the issue properly; a pity you are not.

I repeat - scientists do not talk about vague topics without defining the terms of business. Science does not even start without defining terms precisely.

You might repeat, but you still don't seem to know what you're talking about. (And humorously a few posts into your rant about the need to define terms, you're still yet to define what you want to measure). The problem is quite well enough defined in my posts for reasoned academic discourse on a board such as this; it's just that you don't seem much interested in engaging in that.

While it may sound like a good excuse to the intellectually timid, you have exposed the idiocy of your own argument. What business do you have talking about scientific subjects without a scientific definition of the problem?

The problem is well enough defined in my posts for people who are not "intellectually timid".

Only two can be compared at a time. That is fundamental information theory. Trillions can be compared two at a time, but only two at once. That is why I said two. It is not limiting the scope at all.

Both incorrect and irrelevant. There are vastly better ways to approach the core problem. Perhaps you should look into them sometime.

The problem facing the regulators is what are the risks of allowing GMO, including future genes

So you introduce the problem of a lack of time machine to make the study seem difficult.

No, that the set of genes that may be introduced is unbounded is a fundamental part of the issue, as is the potential latency of outcome. They're not "introduced to make the study seem difficult".

No study can ever prove that health problems of GMO, even if they exist today, cannot be solved tomorrow by any means whatsoever.


So one must start with identifying the problems of GMO, comparing 2 at a time, trying out trillions of solutions over trillions of years, ...

(Emphasis added).

about 7 months ago

EU May Allow Members Home Rule On GMO Foods

williamhb Re:I actually read the article... (272 comments)

(pardon a tagging error, in which one of your paragraphs does not appear in "quote" tags, and looks casually as if I might have written it. I trust that you can still infer who said what contextually from the above however)

about 7 months ago

EU May Allow Members Home Rule On GMO Foods

williamhb Re:I actually read the article... (272 comments)

The experiment I proposed was neither small nor toy. What does that reveal about you?

Of course it is small and toy -- hmm, perhaps I'm using academic casual jargon that is unfamiliar to you. They are not a pejorative, if that's what you were thinking. When academics discuss experiments, they tend to get referred to as "small and toy" when the bounds of the experiment that are chosen in order to make it achievable also render it externally invalid. It's small/toy in comparison to the problem, not in comparison to other experiments. In defining the boundaries of your study, you defined the study so narrowly that it puts the problem we're actually interested in outside the boundary of your proposed study.

And I would be grateful if you can point out the part of my post where I mentioned the study would be easy. Thanks.

Happy to oblige. When you said "There is no difficulty of conducting a study ..."

This does not provide you information on the issue required

In spite of this being the first sentence in your post, you haven't justified it at all. The information "required" could be non-falsifiable, which it does seem as defined by you though it was also vague which is why it could have seemed non-falsifiable. If so, science has no business giving out that information. If not, you are most welcome to define the problem scientifically - which would need it to be non-vague and falsifiable.

I have justified it in both posts in a manner that I'm confident other scientists would understand. If you'll forgive me for making inferences about you, from what you write I suspect that while you are a fervent supporter of science, you do not work in science. Again, that is not a pejorative, but background / lead in to why I'll phrase my explanation for you slightly differently (and more verbosely) than I would to fellow academics.

Modern science is typically not conducted just for its own sake, but in order to address important problems facing society. If you're looking at an area such as public health (such as this GMO policy debate), or at predicting and mitigating the risks of future GMOs, these are necessarily multi-factored complex problems. Bounding the problem to something simple (such as only comparing two strains) might make an experiment more conductible, but it also renders it externally invalid to the problem as future development of GMO is not limited to just two known strains. The problem facing the regulators is what are the risks of allowing GMO, including future genes. So curiously you need to design your experiments to "support" genes you don't know about -- we can potentially do this, but the experiments look very very different to those that have been conducted (which have been of the more simplistic "grow a few and see what happens" variety), and are likely to take much longer than 20 years.

To give you a hint of the complexities involved, Three Mile Island (the near nuclear disaster) depended not merely on nuclear physics but also on human factors.

about 7 months ago



Rumours LHC has identified two strangelets

williamhb williamhb writes  |  more than 4 years ago

williamhb (758070) writes "As you may be aware, the CERN large hadron collider performed it's first high energy collisions just the other day. The official statements are that it will take many months or even years to collect and analyse the data. However, early data already suggests some interesting findings.

Not one not one but two kinds of strangelet appear to have been created. The first turns other particles into strangelets as it contacts them. This might have caused a world-ending reaction had it not been for the second kind. Once a sufficient density of the first strangelets exists in an area, a kind of anti-strangelet appears. This exerts a strong attraction force on other particles, and causes the first strangelets to revert back to normal matter. The strong attraction force suggests this might be an unexpectedly different form of the long sought-after Higgs particle, though this is yet to be confirmed.

The scientists have informally dubbed the first strangelets as "wise particles" or "cluons" as they mimic the way knowledge is passed from person to person. The opposite strangelets' flocking behaviour and cancellation effect on wise particles has led to them being dubbed "fools".

So, today April 1st, scientists can claim to have identified Higg's Bozo."

Link to Original Source



Message topic

williamhb williamhb writes  |  more than 6 years ago Just a blank journal post so people without my email address can contact me away from the general hubbub. (Though NB: comments can be read by others, I believe!)

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