Class Warfare Blog

February 17, 2018

Misuses of Science?

Filed under: Economics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:37 am
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There is a term being bandied about, scientism, to describe the intrusion of science into fields where it is felt to be inappropriate (ethics, for example). I think this “defense” is unnecessary as science is experimental, it either proves useful or it does not. The real problem, I believe, lies in a misunderstanding of what science does and is useful for.

Obviously, science applies well in “scientific” fields: physics, chemistry, biology, etc. So well, in fact, that these areas of study are called “sciences.” The application of scientific methods to other areas is more “iffy” for a good reason. Take the analysis of financial markets, for example. In recent years, college graduates who used to go into scientific fields have been attracted into the financial world. They even have a nickname, “quants,” because of their application of quantitative tools previously only applied in scientific pursuits. The inherent problem here is, even though markets watchers refer to “the market” in phrases like “the market was calm today” or “the market was perturbed today” as if it were some sort of exotic animal, unlike the sciences, there may be no controlling behaviors built into the system. A physicist doing a scientific investigation believes there may well be a fundamental behavior of matter underlying the patterns he/she is studying. That belief is well-founded as such have been found so often in the past. In finance or economics, the belief there is some underlying structure or principles is an open question as such have not been established as fact.

It is a little like Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; the apprentice waves a tool around and mutters incantations hoping to invoke powers he clearly doesn’t understand. He is not even aware what those powers are, except he has seen his master do similar things and get some results. So, in finance, people who mutter incantations and get results are the new masters (by seeming to understand things at a fundamental level others do not) and because it is assumed they have found the underlying structures that create success. Clearly they have not and their results are not attachable to any underlying truths, but they look good to those hoping to find success. (People are still talking nonsense about financial markets as if they were truths.)

Economics is another “science” (it is not) that has adopted the trappings of science without there being much, if any evidence, there are fundamental structures underlying economies. But, by making economics “scientifical,” it has the appearance of being more founded in reality, even though there is no evidence of that.

If the people applying scientific methods to their fields are serious, they need to establish whether there are, indeed, any underlying structures that can be discovered, that help us to understand their fields. Just waving scientific tools around in the air may make one’s studies look more prestigious, but in the end they will just look foolish.

The sad thing is the general populous can’t tell the difference between science rooted in reality and speculative science being employed in the hopes it will work. This, using science speculatively, seems to be a handle that the science deniers are using to discredit solid science. And that will not help us make progress.

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February 16, 2018

The “Right-to-Try” Scam

There seems to be a movement to disrupt or remove “regulations” on pharmaceuticals. I mean why should those poor companies have to jump through all of those hoops to get a drug to market? This is called the “right-to-try” movement. Even President Trump has heard of it (ergo Fox (sic) News reported on it).

So, would people who are in need of some medical help be given the right to try unproven pharmaceuticals? This has been on option for richer citizens for quite some time. At the peak of the AIDS epidemic, people who could afford the effort were heading for Asia and Mexico to try all kinds of “therapies” to save their lives. I am unaware if any of these proved a source of drugs that ended up actually helping people so afflicted.

Or, is this just a cynical scam of “let’s try out drugs on desperate poor people?”

I’ll guess I’ll believe it when these assholes suggesting this shortcut to the clinical trials needed to verify a drug’s effectiveness line up to test out those drugs themselves. I suggest that what they see in this future is unproven pharmaceuticals are “tried” and then anecdotal evidence of cures is available (or fabricated) and sales soar through the roof. When problems occur (ineffectiveness, horrific side effects, deaths, etc.), the companies can pleas “How could we have known? They had a “right-to-try” and exercised it. We thought it would work. It is sad; our thoughts an prayers go out to the afflicted.” Typical of plutocrats it is: heads I win, tails you lose.

Assholes.

(Try a key word search for thalidomide.)

 

 

February 15, 2018

Why Fundamentalist Christians are More Likely to Be Political Conservatives

I won’t be coy here; fundamentalist Christians and Conservatives find themselves in bed because they share an ad campaign. There are areas in this country in which Christians cannot believe one of their fellows is a registered Democrat, that is how closely the two categories have become entwined. This is not an accident either. This also tends to go unnoticed by the coastal elites who are in pretty much the opposite polarities.

Both fundamentalist groups, Christians and Conservatives, proffer a “the world is going to hell in a hand basket” worldview and blame their fictitious accelerating slide into mediocrity, immorality, and doom on the failure of us, their audience, to embrace their values and beliefs.

There is only one thing wrong with this: they couldn’t be more wrong … both of them. Not just wrong, but Titanically wrong. (Unfortunately, there is no iceberg to show them how off course they are.)

The thing I find amazing is how willing these people are to lie to establish that these memes of theirs are true. Lying and politics go hand in hand, so I guess that is not surprising, but the religious lying through their teeth, when the message is a slackening of morals, is rather jarring.

A recent book by Steven Pinker shows that violence has been declining for centuries … not total violence because the population has been increasing, but per capita violence. The earliest memory I have of a mention of the U.S. population was when I was in high school and the number was 148 million. Currently we are somewhere near 325 million, so I suspect everything has more than doubled since then. The number of cars on roads has doubled, the number of miles of roads has probably doubled, too. The number of postal workers, the number of pet dogs, all of those must have grown substantially. But when we are talking about social issues, the frequency is more important than the absolute numbers because of this population growth. The incidents of per capita violence have been dropping for centuries … even including the world wars and killing fields and all of that. This is one of the main topics of Professor Pinker’s book.

Crime in the U.S. has diminished substantially over the past 50 years, even in absolute terms. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, there is just no support for the declining morals/values whine from these two groups.

If you want to read more about the state of the world as it actually is, I recommend Dr. Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature. I am about to open his most recent book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, which is in the same vein. You can continue to listen to the utterances of President Trump, but I consider them to be worse than noise at this point and only pay attention to the official actions of his minion horde, drawn from the dregs of the Republican Party. Those actions aren’t noise and should be kept on lists so they can be reversed (better: improved upon) as soon as the clown and his circus are out of office.

There is one message and one message alone that the election of Mr. Trump demands be heard: people are fed up with the status quo. Mr. Trump is acting against that state, but in the direction opposite to how the people want to go and in the direction dictated by the wealthy elite in this country.

Addendum R.I.P. GOP, there seems to be nothing left of that party’s integrity, morals, and values.

January 1, 2018

How Could We Have Known?

Filed under: Business,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:12 am
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I can hear it now, the energy executives who express wonderment at the extent of the damage caused by climate change while looking bewildered for the cameras: “How could we have known?” They will say this.

Well, help me count the ways…. Here is a warning given in 1959, almost 60 years ago, during an institute called by, of all people, the energy executives.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jan/01/on-its-hundredth-birthday-in-1959-edward-teller-warned-the-oil-industry-about-global-warming

December 30, 2017

Are UFOs Real?

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:27 am
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This is a quite stupid question that keeps getting muddled. Of course UFOs are real, but that is not the problem. The real problem is with the “U,” that is they are unidentified.

Many people, apparently, want these UFOs to be evidence of visitations from extraterrestrials, i.e. real aliens. That interpretation is still open.

So, UFOs are real. They are real mistaken identities, real secret weapons systems, and real we don’t know what the heck they are. But what about the aliens? Most people are ignorant of basic science, so allow me to establish some parameters based upon known scientific limits. One of those limits is that as a physical object, such as a spacecraft approaches the speed of light, really any sizable fraction of it, the amount of energy needed to increase the object’s speed goes up, well astronomically. This makes moving a space craft along at the speed of light essentially impossible, but let’s assume, for the sake of this discussion, that such a feat, travel at the speed of light, were possible.

If any neighbor of ours wanted to come our way, what do you think would be a reasonable travel distance? I suggest a reasonable limit to that distance is 100 light years. If a planet is 100 light years away (the distance light were to travel in 100 years) and it had a spacecraft capable of doing what we think impossible, traveling at the speed of light, they would be undertaking a trip that would take 100 years to get here and 100 years to get back. Even if these space faring aliens lived incredibly long lives, that is a very long time to be cooped up in a spacecraft, exposed to the hazards of space travel (nasty radiation that cannot be blocked out, the vacuum of space, tiny meteoroids that can and do punch holes through spacecraft, no refueling/reprovisioning stations along the way so you have to bring everything with you, etc.). The boredom alone would make the trip daunting.

So, there is a region in space surrounding our planet, that is 100 light years in radius from which we could reasonably expect a possible visit. How does this compare with the size of the rest of the universe? The universe is 14 billion or so years old, so its radius is about 14 billion light years. To compare the volumes, we need to cube the radii of both “spheres” and we end up with a ratio of 1003 to 14,000,000,0003. That means our little neighborhood constitutes roughly 3.6 x 10–23 of one percent of the entire universe (just add a decimal point and 22 zeros in front of the 3 and you can drop the rest).

We could conclude, therefore, that our little bubble in space also contains that fraction of the space faring intelligent alien species in the universe, too. Oh.

If you have ever wondered why we don’t see “them,” this is why.

Oh, I didn’t mention the time problem. The universe is 14 billion years old and we have been looking for aliens for maybe 100 years … to make a long story short, we have a similar fraction of time in which such encounters could occur. Space faring aliens may have come and gone, too far away to make contact, millions of times and we couldn’t possibly have noticed them as we were not looking.

There is a reason why science fiction authors are constantly inventing methods of travel (wormholes, warp drives (whatever that is), etc.). The inventor of the warp drive was cagey enough to not define what a warp number meant. Most people think it is like the Mach system with the speed of light replacing the speed of sound, so Warp 5 is five times the speed of light. The Star Trek shows seem to indicate that a limit to their technology was travel at about Warp 10. If this actually represents ten times the speed of light, then that expands our bubble 1000 fold! Hooray! Which brings our percent of the universe within reasonable travel times to 3.6 x 10–20 of one percent. Oh.

If you happen to be a theist and are wondering why a creator god would have created so much of the universe inaccessible to us, you may want to consider that he wanted to keep all of his created creatures separated for a reason (maybe until we learn that Kill, kill, kill! is not a good first response to anything strange), or maybe he enjoys a good joke, or maybe he is just perverse, or….

December 21, 2017

A Creationist Argument on This Winter’s Solstice

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:24 am
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Obviously (I hope) this is not to scale!

We have just experienced yet another winter solstice, a date that heralds the beginning of winter. This is followed by a spring equinox, a summer solstice, then an autumn equinox, then the cycle repeats. This is all caused by the tilt of the axis that the Earth rotates about from the plane that it revolves about the Sun. Part of the year the north pole of the Earth points more toward the Sun and part of the year it points more away. When it is pointed more toward the Sun, it is warmer in the North, but cooler in the South, giving different characteristics to the seasons below the equator than above. This 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis from being perpendicular to the plane it rotates around the sun in, creates four perfect seasons on the planet. Not five, not three, but four, the perfect number of seasons.

Surely this complicated system could not have been created by chance, it must have required a creator.

If you believe this argument, congratulations, you are officially a fundamentalist Christian … and a number of other things equally obvious.

Happy Holidays!

December 18, 2017

Where Do Thoughts Come From?

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:31 am
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My free will post has suggested a couple of follow-ups. One such topic is the illusions of consciousness. A common manifestation of one of these is the general idea that we control our thoughts, that we create our own conscious thoughts, well, consciously.

It ain’t so, I am afraid.

Any one who has spent time learning to meditate can attest to this. Part of meditation is clearing one’s mind of thoughts, to experience some “peace of mind,” as it were. This is a bitch, if you will excuse the expression. Our consciousness essentially bubbles with unbidden thoughts. If we create them, why can we not just turn them off?

The simple answer is we can’t because “we” do not create them. The obvious question then is, “Well, then who does?”

I do not know and I do not think anyone else knows, but I can hazard an educated guess. It all stems from imagination. Imagination seems to be a mental ability that manifests itself in us creating a simulacrum of reality in our heads and then we can “imagine” or basically do experiments in that imaginary world with no real repercussions if “mistakes are made.” This ability leads to a much greater ability to survive and pass on our genes, aka evolutionary success. Consider an animal operating on instinct, that is hardwired mental programs. We are out of the African savanna, where humans evolved to our current form, and there is tall grass with a rustling in it a bit of a ways off. It could just be a gust of wind, or it could be a predator, moving through the grass coming their way. The animal becomes more alert, using vision and hearing to detect clues as to what it is. If there is no further disturbance, they go about their business. Predators, of course, learned from this behavior, learned to advance toward the prey stealthily … and then stop from time to time in utter stillness, to get the prey to ignore the stimulus of its approach. The prey animals, if they see or hear certain stimuli run away (the response is “fight or flight” and prey animals are better at the latter).

When we developed imagination as a mental tool, then we had more options. For one we could imagine that the disturbance was due to a wind zephyr and then imagine it was due to a predator. The consequences of the disturbance being due to a predator are far worse, so adopting a strategy of moving off now would be the most prudent. (This, of course, led us to believe in unseen movers and shakers we called spirits, demons, gods, etc.)

Now, if we were thinkers only in the conscious sense, we would have to stop what we were thinking, analyze the situation, run a few simulations through our imagination, and then act or not on what we learned. If this were the basis of the mutation/adaption that gave us imagination, we would have ended up in the bellies of predators too frequently and that mutation/adaption would have proved “non-viable” because it is too slow. Instead, our subconscious mental processing power kicks in to create all kinds of such things at a rate much faster than we can do consciously. (Remember, subconscious mental activities are the “fast” in Kahneman’s Thinking: Fast and Slow.) So, the subconscious “us” has the job of rapidly exploring myriad scenarios and alerting the conscious “us” if one of them reaches “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” levels.

We have evolved to generate thoughts that correspond to real reality and imagined reality. So, these come at us fast and furiously. Most of these subconscious thoughts that leak into our conscious are ignored as they carry little weight. If something is really serious, we get signals we cannot ignore, including heart palpitations, sweating, panting breaths, etc. As I mentioned, we do not have much, if any, conscious control over our bodily functions.

Some of us are better at this and some are worse. If we are better at generating images, thoughts, patterns, etc. then we find meditating more difficult, because of the sheer volume of such things flitting about. If we are less imaginatively energetic, meditation comes easier. (One is not necessarily better than the other, just different.)

I suspect an individual’s creativity comes from an ability to access that river of thoughts and images and feelings that are running through our brains subconsciously. Those people will have more options for artistic expression or really any other form of expression.

This is all quite speculative, of course, but I suspect there may be a grain or two of truth in it. We will see as currently we are learning a great deal more about non-conscious modes of thought. (Thank you, inventors of brain scanners.) But do keep in mind that we do not yet know how memories are storied, a basic function of our mentality, so we are just at the beginnings of understand such subjects. We might even get a handle on whether there is such a thing as free will.

November 28, 2017

Proving the World is Flat

Filed under: Education,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:54 am
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It is somehow a newsworthy item that a gentleman wants to launch himself into the upper atmosphere to prove the Earth is flat. Why this is newsworthy is beyond me. There are crazy people everywhere.

If you are a person who believes the world is flat (it looks flat, doesn’t it), there are a number of simple things you can do in lieu of shooting oneself into the upper atmosphere. Here are a few.

  1. At 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, telephone someone half way around the world. They will be mightily pissed to you for waking them up, it being deep into the night where they are (2 or 3 o’clock in the morning)! If the Earth were flat, the sun would rise and set at the same time (roughly, ignoring refraction effects) everywhere.
  2. Go outside at night and observe the Southern Cross in the “heavens.” Unless you live in the Southern hemisphere (below the equator) the Southern Cross is a constellation that cannot be seen. This is because “straight” up points in quite different directions around the globe.
  3. Try to sell winter clothing right now in Australia. The Australians will ignore you because it is late spring there right now and summer is coming. If the Earth were flat it would be the same season everywhere simultaneously.
  4. Set a camera up to take a photo in the direction of the sun once a week at the same time. Overlay the results and what you will get is shown in the photo (the white stripes are made by leaving the lens open for a time and showing the path of the Sun in the Sky on three occasions, the angle is an indicator of your latitude on the globe). If the Sun were orbiting a flat earth, you would not get this pattern. The pattern you would get depends on whether the flat disk Earth is rotating but you wouldn’t get this pattern. This pattern stems from the fact that the Earth’s rotational axis tilts 23.5 degrees relative the plane it revolves around the sun. As the Earth nods to the Sun then away, the angle the Sun appears in the sky changes.
  5. Go to an observatory and ask to be shown the planets. All of them, including the Sun, rotate on an axis. (Galileo used one of the first telescopes to show the moons of Jupiter actually move around Jupiter.) You might want to ask why it is that Earth is the only one that does not, but don’t ask the astronomers as they will have trouble recovering from laughing their asses off.

You do not need a rocket to show the Earth is flat or round, you just need the ability to communicate. The Greeks did this about 2300 years ago. They measured the shadows of a stick stuck straight into the ground at quite different locations and found that the stick cast a different length shadow at roughly the same time (being determined when the sun is highest in the sky, aka local “noon”). If the Earth were flat, the shadow would be the same length at the same time everywhere. The Greeks used the differences in the lengths of the shadow to calculate the size of the Earth and came quite close to the modern value.

Maybe this doesn’t appeal to people who believe the Earth is flat because, well: math. It is hard and makes them tremble with fear. The other thing that seems to be the case of these people is that they cannot get up off of their fat assess and research the proofs. It only requires an Internet search … and some thought.

November 23, 2017

We Are All Together Now

Fundamentalist Christians are sticking to their Adam and Even narrative and now seem to be crowing about the discovery of a male counterpart of mitochondrial Eve. This male ancestor of us all has been dubbed Y-chromosomal Adam. Catchy monikers those scientists come up with.

There is, of course, no evidence these two ancestors ever met and every indication that there were probably tens of thousands of other Homo sapiens alive at the times they existed, but the church people will have their crow, because Jesus.

I can’t help but note that both of these ancestors of ours existed in Africa, were Africans, and likely had very dark skins (an adaption to sunny climates).

I can’t wait for the first Southern Baptist preacher who gets up in front of his congregation on a Sunday morning, and proclaims that science has confirmed the Adam and Eve story as they all knew it would and that Adam and Eve lived in Africa. He finishes with: “Well, we all nigras now.”

Addendum
Just for giggles, it seems that all Europeans or people of European ancestry have DNA that is largely two thirds African and one third Asian. I wonder how my hypothetical pastor might phrase that conclusion for his “flock.”

November 10, 2017

Economist’s Grasp of Reality (or Lack Thereof)

Many economic theories focus on the tendency of markets to create states of equilibrium. They say these states occur “naturally.”

Economists are also keen on making their studies seem scientific and they can and do point to many physical systems that naturally come to equilibrium. If you drop a ball, it falls, bounces a few times and then stops. The force on the ball at that point is the force of gravity (the attractions things have for one another because they have mass) and the counterforce (keeping the ball from moving downward by opposing the force of gravity) is the floor pushing up because its shape has been changed by the weight of the ball as it is made of resilient materials (materials that return to their original shapes when distorted .. a little). Voila, an equilibrium state created naturally. The downward force of gravity is exactly balanced by the upward force exerted by the floor and an equilibrium of forces exists.

Physics literally abounds with such examples: bathroom scales, child’s swings (pendulums), heat transfers, etc. But these are simple systems and economic systems are not simple (although they can be passed off as such, they are not). A better source of examples of scientific equilibria would be biology, which has more complex systems. In biology, if an organism achieves something like a state of equilibrium there is one thing you can know about it: it is dead. (Hey, this does happen … naturally!)

In complex organisms, these organisms are near states of equilibrium but never get too close to being in one. If, for example, we lose enough heat from our bodies to affect our skin temperature, we are moved to action: our hair stands up (goose bumps) to trap air to insulate us, our metabolism kicks in to generate more heat internally, and if those don’t work, we get up and put on a sweater, or turn on the heater in our house/apartment. Our temperature stays pretty much the same because we are always correcting it.

If we get too far from equilibrium, we usually are quite ill, but actually being at equilibrium means we are room temperature, aka dead.

Economist are full of shit if they espouse natural equilibrium creation by economic markets. It is one of those signs that you know they are spouting bullshit, like when their lips are moving. The reason they allow themselves such delusions is they do not check their theories against reality. They aren’t even expected to! Unfortunately for those folks, their end is coming soon. While they were not looking, behavioral economics has sprung up with a behavioral economist having won a Nobel Prize recently. These folks apply economic reasoning to actual experiments and actual people’s behaviors! That is, they check their theories against reality. (Gasp, wow!) It will not be long before the movers and shakers start noticing the progress being made by the behavioral economists is not being matched by ordinary economists and then, the jig will be up.

Imagine, if “trickle down economics” had ever been required to be validated against reality, it would have been exposed as a bullshit argument used to mask increased benefits for the elites long before it was. Think of all of the political bullshit that could have been prevented.

If this were to become SOP, we might actually find out what the last refuge of scoundrels really is.

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