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Comment Re:A simple test is in order (Score 1) 326

Well, this is a bit like parents who take their kids to get vaccinated and a few hours later that kid exhibits the first signs of autism. It's an immensely compelling coincidence. You'd have to (a) know that autism symptoms often have a rapid onset and (b) realize that when they do they can follow any commonplace childhood event. Even if you did it'd still be hard to shake the suspicion if it happened to your kid.

Somebody points a IR remote at your friend; he gets up and has a brief moment of orthostatic hypotension -- also known as a "dizzy spell" brought on by a sudden drop in blood pressure -- just at the moment the guy pushes the button. Orthostatic hypotension can happen to anyone, but if your friend isn't otherwise prone to it that can be a very compelling coincidence; and many of the symptoms of hypotension can be reproduced by psychological stress.

If something like that happens to you people will say, "oh, it's all in your head," but the thing is that all suffering is inside peoples' heads. One of the worst kinds of pain you can have is passing a kidney stone, but if you happen to be in a coma at the time you won't feel a thing. Distress produced within the brain is indistinguishable to the subject from distress produced outside the brain. Having an external explanation for that distress can make someone feel like they have some control over what is a disturbing experience, and shooting holes in that explanation isn't going to help unless you can offer them a better handle on it.

Sometimes I think we'd be better off if we just brought back shamans and witch doctors.

Comment Re:Mirrors (Score 2) 111

I don't think you could make the reflective surface perfect enough to make the drone positively laser-proof, but I think a reflective coating would certainly reduce the laser's effective range. Analogously you can't nuke-proof an aircraft, but in the Cold War they were often painted "anti-flash white" to help them survive a bit closer to a detonation.

Comment Re:Which is why (Score 1) 233

Well, as far as Atkins is concerned, diet research is really, really hard and expensive to do right. I know because when I was an MIT student one of my jobs was office boy in the Food and Nutrition group, and I saw how hard it was. In one of the studies, research subjects were given a duffle bag from which all the input to their digest systems came, and into which all the output from the same went, for six bloody months.

Of course not every study needs to be that rigorous, but diet is one of those areas where the public needs lots of informed opinion but the funding for research is grossly inadequate to meet that need.

By the way, the current state of research seems to be that carbohydrate restricted diets work well in the short term but have only modest success in the long term.

Comment Which is why (Score 2) 233

... you don't make any important decisions based on a single paper. That's true for hard sciences as well as social sciences.

Science by its very nature deals in contradictory evidence. I'd argue that openness to contradictory evidence is the distinguishing characteristic of science. A and not A cannot be true at the same time, but their can be, and normally is, evidence for both positions. So that means science often generates contradictory papers.

What you need to do is read the literature in a field widely so you can see the pattern of evidence, not just a single point. Or, if you aren't willing to invest the time for that you can find what's called a review paper in a high-impact factor journal. A review paper is supposed to be a fair summary of recent evidence on a question by someone working in the field. For bonus points read follow-up letters to that paper. Review papers are not infallible, but they're a heck of a lot more comprehensive than any other source of information.

Comment Re:That would be penny wise and pound foolish (Score 1) 339

Well, a lot depends on how your actions fit into your long term vision, if anything. "We'll just rebuild this neighborhood and everything will be hunky-dory" is obviously not a long term plan.

The reason the Netherlands flood control makes sense is that the value of 25% of their country's land area far outweighs the cost of reclaiming it, as simple as that. When the net present value of keeping the flood waters off a piece ofland exceeds the net present value of the use you'll get from it, then it's time to abandon piece of land.

Comment Re:Exaggeration is not Necessary (Score 1) 339

Well, if you *insist* on being pedantic, what they mean is "It's not going to stop before it causes a degree havoc most people would find inconceivable."

I think they kind of expect people to understand they're not claiming that the water levels will rise, drowning the Moon, inundating the Sun, and eventually filling up the entire universe.

Comment Re:"...need to be prepared..." (Score 4, Insightful) 339

Sure. Or sooner if you are economically tied to businesses or people near the coast; or businesses or people not near the coast; or businesses or people not near the coast but dependant on others that are. That's the downside of living in a modern economy. I didn't hold any toxic mortgage backed financial instruments, but I sure felt the pain when the capital markets went tits up in 08.

Comment Re: No one should *ever* wonder why... (Score 1) 273

The lack of understanding what a conservative is on slashdot never ceases to amaze me. Its called smaller government and enforce laws that are already on the books instead of creating new ones.

There you go, you explained your own mystification away. You define the conservative program by what conservatives want. Everyone else defines it by what the people conservatives vote for do when they get into office, which is spend money and make government even more intrusive.

Comment I propose a solution. (Score 1) 234

Any time the cops stop an autonomous car they have to pay the owner of that car $1000, no matter what the reason for the stop. Compared to the legal costs of what comes after a legitimate stop, that's nothing. But it would dissuade police from developing a pattern of frivolous stops.

Comment Re:No one should *ever* wonder why... (Score 3, Interesting) 273

Well, I agree government is dangerous -- so is anything that is powerful. Max Weber defined the state as the organization that has a monopoly on violence.

But the blame isn't with the liberals, or the conservative libertarians, neither of whom want this kind of data collection. It's with the conservative authoritarians who want to expand the power of the police.

Comment Re:Clickbait title ? (Score 2) 233

Well, I think it's more complicated than that. People are not just ignorant of the limitations of knowledge, they're ignorant of the limitations of ignorance.

In fact, I'd say faulty appeals to ignorance are much more common here than faulty appeals to knowledge. People will say "How can we know X when we don't know Y?" when in fact it's quite possible to know X without Y, and in any case we actually know a lot more about Y than the poster thinks.

Comment Re:n=6? Seriously? (Score 1) 94

This is exactly what I was going to say. It's often a mistake to big early with an experiment because you risk finding statistically significant results that are practically significant. People expect BIG effects from a vaccine. When you take a vaccine it's like you're a sample of one: you want a very high chance of it making a practical difference to you. Nobody would take flu shot that reduced their chance of contracting flu by 20%.

But "effective" is only half the story. You have to show "safe" as well, and that's where you need huge trials.

Comment Re:So what? (Score 2) 102

Well, when you're appropriating a common phrase you do have make some effort to make that stand for your product. It's not enough to pick a phrase out of the air and claim it's yours. Nike did this with "Just Do It," and they obviously succeeded because most people who don't live under a rock would be able to identify Nike as the company that uses this trademark.

And if I understand how this works it doesn't mean other people, even corporations with competitive products, can't use that phrase. They just can't use that phrase in a way that is intended to create an association between that phrase and their product. So a different watch maker could say in it's ad, "One more thing you'll like about our Swiss automatic diver is never having to buy a battery again." That is if I understand this right.

Comment Re:Yer Kidding, Right? (Score 3, Insightful) 68

Well, as a software designer I learned two lessons about clients that are probably relevant to how politicians deal with constituents:

(1) Clients seldom know what they want precisely enough to do anything about, and when they do have precise ideas they're usually bad.

(2) It's really critical to listen to what clients think they want.

Call it "theater" if you will, but it's really naive to think the petition thing is supposed to be some kind of exercise in direct democracy. It's not. It's an exercise in constituent relations.

Stellar rays prove fibbing never pays. Embezzlement is another matter.