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Comment Re:The odds are very low... (Score 2) 182

People are notoriously bad at rationally assessing risk and this is a clear example of one common pattern. People are much more worried about uncommon, but catastrophic risks than they are about common, moderately costly risks. This is exacerbated by risks which reinforce an existing world-view.

It should then come as no surprise that people who believe we should be investing more in space technologies would have a distorted view of the risk posed by asteroid impacts.

Comment Thanks, Obama? (Score 4, Insightful) 411

Saying "The Obama Administration [sic]" makes it sound like some sort of political meddling was behind this action. While the EPA is part of the executive bureaucracy, this does not stink of Obama political officials pushing an agenda, but just normal regulatory oversight and it therefore should be attributed to the agency.

Comment Re:Wait a minute... (Score 2) 324

Secure protects against a whole class of man-in-the-middle attacks which allow third parties to inject malicious code into non-sensitive communications.

More importantly, however, requiring security of everyone makes secure sites more secure. The big problem is that security notifications for users don't work. It is simply too difficult and error-prone to notify users of important security problems while also ignoring unimportant ones. False negatives put users at risk and false positives train users to ignore warnings. This problem would largely disappear if security were the overwhelming expectation and the folks who can address this are the people running the servers.

Comment What are your definitions? (Score 1, Insightful) 700

I have many problems with the Scientologists and how they have conducted themselves, but there are many religious organizations from the Catholic church to televangalists to numerous unaffiliated organizations which have done horrible things to their communities and congregations at various times. Scientologists aren't even the only ones who have or currently put a price tag on better spiritual outcomes (e.g. tithing).

Scientology's religious status should not be in question. Just because it is new and it is based on a set of beliefs which you think are goofy doesn't make their spiritual or philisophical claims any less legally legitimate.

If the leadership of Scientology are involved in things which we generally find morally reprehensible we should certainly question why this state of affairs has been allowed to continue and seek reforms to address it. If they are in violation of our definitions of being a religious non-profit organization, that should also be pursued. To simply ask that an unpopular religious movement be stripped of legal recognition due to the misconduct of some of its leadership, however, is a political discrimination which we should be wary of. Americans' right to organize based on their shared belief regardless of what other people think of that belief is a protection we have traditionally valued and to erode it by selectively favouring some beliefs over others without clear, fair reasons is a dangerous precedent to adopt.

Comment Re:Nauseated. (Score 3, Insightful) 164

English dictionaries are not prescriptive, but descriptive of the useage of words. All this is saying is that this is how people are using this word so if you hear someone use it you should consider this definition in trying to understand what has been said.

Also, while I agree on a technical level that words have no intrinsic meaning and are simply tools of communication, I don't think this conflicts with the idea that we should care about language in order to improve its utility and accessibility. It is completely legitimate to prefer that people use nauseated over nauseous as the expanded definition of the latter to include the former can hinder communication and cause confusion.

We certainly should care about our language and quoting dictionaries at people who do so is a high form of anti-thinking which just discourages people from caring.

Comment Re:The problem is the "social sciences". (Score 5, Insightful) 493

The ignorance in your statement is mind-boggling and shows a deep bias toward the physical sciences and the number of mod points that it has received just shows how well it panders to this particular audience. The success of physical sciences does not come from their "solid foundation", but from how much simpler their fields of study are. As one moves up the ladder of complexity or murkier sources of evidence, the less predictive they become, not because they are any 'less scientific', but because the science is more difficult. Ecology, behavioral biology, medicine, and archaeologically-based fields all live in the middle of this spectrum and it is evident from the lack of consensus and frequent regressions in those fields.

The biggest problem in the social sciences isn't their practices, it is that their findings are inherently political, so it is very common for them to be used by people with an agenda or even promoted in order to create those tools to do so. While ideologues certainly exist in all academic fields, the murkiness of social science makes it more difficult to discredit their ideas conclusively. Even so, there are large bodies of actionable evidence which must be contended with. Unfortunately, journalists and the lay public rarely have the familiarity with the field or the sophistication to interpret social science research.

Comment Re:I suppose this means there's still hope (Score 1) 138

The first movie in the reboot series was passable.

I hear this so much and I am convinced that people are deluding themselves. Both films are filled with action schlock and related tropes with anemic stories. I don't see how the cold fusion bomb is any better than red matter. Why does the first garbage film get a pass when the second one is an awful betrayal?

Comment Re:Nothing has been lost! (Score 1) 290

Currency in general is just common agreement to scale work for goods and services

This is a key misunderstanding which has helped to pump up these virtual 'currencies'. Modern currencies are not value because of 'scarcity'. People don't want it because it is rare. People want it because they are motivated to pay their debts, either the ones they have chosen to take on or those imposed upon them by a government (e.g. property taxes). As long as one trusts that people will be motivated to pay off their debts in the future and that the money supply will only grow as legitimate promises to pay that debt grows, then the currency has real value separate from some vague notion of scarcity or 'common agreement'.

Comment Re:Fracking doesn't PUT stress on faults (Score 1) 168

We want to transfer load to weaker faults as they break under less load creating more small earthquakes instead of a few large ones. Bad loading scenarios certainly can occur, but they seem to be less probable than scenarios where fracking is reducing system load and thus reducing risk to lives and structures.

Comment Re:Copenhagen interpretation != less complicated (Score 1) 197

even if it makes some things easier to understand it's not generally the most useful way to think about QM

Engineers use Newtonian gravity as the basis for their equations because they are more practical than using relativity. Even if this theory were to turn out to better describe the universe, actual work would get done using simpler, good-enough probabilistic equations instead of the deterministic ones, but that wouldn't change the fact that the new theory better explains the total body of observations we have.

and arguably in some sense can't be the way Nature does what it does.

Why would this be the case? Chaotic systems as a class are extremely difficult to calculate, but we have plenty of examples of them in nature.

Comment an issue of terminology (Score 1) 1051

"Philosophical" exemptions are, in effect, no different from religious exemptions, it simply words things to be more understanding of non-"religious" beliefs. To target philosophical exemptions is to hold supernatural philosophies higher than naturalistic philosophies, a road we should probably avoid.

Comment Reasons (Score 1) 516

Medium sized power outages are generally caused by a failure of local transmission lines. These lines are frequently exposed to a variety of hazards, particularly trees, wind, ice, wildlife, and humans. There are only really two ways to secure against this, burying cables and building redundancy, both of which are quite expensive. Transmission fees in the USA are usually heavily regulated and the prices they may charge would not cover such an expense. It is also unclear if a market would want to pay for this, and it is very difficult to discriminate in price and service among customers who would.

Finally, bureaucracy and in-fighting between local utility providers sometimes blocks redundancy when it might otherwise available. Historical feuds, hurt feelings over regulatory decisions regarding service area, and disagreements over cost sharing to handle inter-network connections can leave one person at the end of a service line with no way to get power from another provider just down the road.

"Help Mr. Wizard!" -- Tennessee Tuxedo