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Comment: Re:Similar to "Runaround" in I, Robot... (Score 1) 134

by radtea (#47920583) Attached to: Developing the First Law of Robotics

Yup, and the solution available to any rational being is the same: since by hypothesis the two choices are indistinguishable, flip a coin to create a new situation in which one of them has a trivial weight on its side.

Starving to death (or letting everyone die) is obviously inferior to this to any rational being (which the donkey and the robot are both presumed to be) and adding randomness is a perfectly general solution to the problem.

Buridan's donkey is not in fact an example of a rational being, but rather a passive, uncreative being, who must for some unspecified reason decide without acting on the situation, as if it was living in some bizarrely unrealistic world like Plato's Cave, where it could only know the world via shadows on the wall which it cannot act on in any way.

Why anyone thinks thought-experiments about such limited beings, which are completely unlike humans in their inability to act on the world to change their situation, is beyond me.

Comment: Re:It's getting hotter still! (Score 3, Insightful) 582

by radtea (#47911031) Attached to: Extent of Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches Record Levels

It stands to reason...

...that the Earth is flat.

"It stands to reason", "it just makes sense", "it's common sense"... these are not just not arguments, they are anti-arguments: anyone using them is saying loudly and clearly "I have nothing to contribute to this discussion but here's some noise to dilute the signal."

Any time you find yourself offering an opinion based only on your imagination, please don't. Get some data, learn some modelling, do some statistics before you speak.

Philosophers attempted to understand the world for thousands of years based on what "just makes sense" and failed completely and utterly. After three hundred years of scientists showing us a better way--and showing that what "stands to reason" has absolutely nothing at all to do with the way the world actually is--there is really very little excuse for continuing to promulgate this erroneous and basically useless way of knowing.

Comment: Re:Great idea! Let's alienate Science even more! (Score 1) 870

by radtea (#47899413) Attached to: Why Atheists Need Captain Kirk

Science is agnostic. It makes no statements about God, gods or Non-gods. Science doesn't need to place value on anything.

All true, in some strict sense. But...

Science lacks something that gives religion a ridiculous amount of power: narrative. (shameless plug) I wrote a book exploring this subject: http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-...

The gist of my argument is--in the terms of TFA--is that "Spockism" lacks narrative hooks, while "Kirkism" is full of them. "Science fiction" is an attempt to give science narrative power, and sometimes it really works, but it needs to be continually renewed because unlike religion science moves and changes and grows, so each generation needs its new Asimov or Heinlein or Clarke.

Comment: Re:real problem is patent and copyright length (Score 4, Insightful) 110

by radtea (#47893023) Attached to: Software Patents Are Crumbling, Thanks To the Supreme Court

The weakening of patent protections mean some small guys will be killed.

Particularly small patent holders that present ideas to big companies, hoping to be bought out, but instead get the shaft.

Nope. A patent is a license to sue. Small players rarely have the resources to do so. A very small number take the risk, fewer still manage it successfully. Pointing to one or two cases where small players were successful is not an argument. You have to look at all patents held by small players, find out how many get violated and what fraction of those use the courts or plausible threat of legal action to defend themselves.

I don't have the numbers, but from an insiders perspective (I am a small patent holder and have worked for a number of small players with patents) I can tell you that the average small player is very unlikely take court action, and that the average large player is unlikely to be much bothered by a threat of patent litigation from a small player, because they know they can simply exhaust the small player's resources.

Comment: Re:Is the expense of electrolysis the main inhibit (Score 4, Informative) 113

by radtea (#47892255) Attached to: Liquid Sponges Extract Hydrogen From Water

The next generation of attempts stores the hydrogen chemically.

I'm not sure if it qualifies as "the next generation" when it has been studied since well before my now-adult children were born.

Skepticism with respect to hydrogen exists in part because some of us have heard this tune before. Storage of hydrogen in metal sponges is nothing new, and they have some very nice theoretical properties, including reasonable volumetric energy density, which is a big problem for hydrogen.

Getting up to 1/5 the volumetric density of fossil fuels--which is the likely upper limit--would make hydrogen cars more than competitive with electric vehicles. But so far no one has managed that, despite continuous work on the problem.

For some reason TFA doesn't say anything about the long history of storing hydrogen in metal sponges, or make clear what makes this one different, although one can guess that as a liquid there are likely metal particles in suspension and that gives a huge surface area advantage.

It's almost as if the articles were written by junior staff members with no actual knowledge of hydrogen storage technology, but since we live in a "knowledge based economy" where STEM skills are in incredibly high demand there is no way reputable news organizations like the BBC would do anything like that, right?

Comment: Re:This article makes no sense whatsoever (Score 5, Interesting) 129

by radtea (#47885657) Attached to: Researchers Working On Crystallizing Light

So I take it no one else understands what this article is about either.

In fairness to the writer of the simply hideous article, which is an amazing compendium of misleading nonsense, irrelevancy and outright falsehood, the research team seem to be speaking in a private language. Even their "popular summary" is difficult for a physicist who has done some work in quantum fundamentals to understand.

It appears they have created a fairly standard state in which microwave photons are strongly interacting with each other via a superconductor. Their is for some reason they do not explain and seem to take for granted, a phase transition in the system's behaviour as the number of photons drops.

This may (or may not) be related to the "phase/photon-number uncertainty principle", which is analogous to the usual position/momentum uncertainty principle: you can know the precise classical phase of a many-photon beam or you can know the number of photons in it, but not both at the same time. As the total number of photons goes down the uncertainty in the the number of photons goes down, increasing the uncertainty in the phase (that's one fairly hand-waving way to think about it, at least.)

After the phase transition the system is in some weird quantum state that they liken to Schrodinger's cat, but since Schrodinger's cat is in a perfectly ordinary quantum superposition that knowledge adds exactly nothing to our understanding of what the state actually is. Presumably they are referring to some particular state that is currently well-known within quantum information theory, but by presenting the idea to a lay audience without elaboration they simply add to the overall sense of confusion and, uh, incoherence.

Comment: Re:Seems reasonable (Score 1) 461

by radtea (#47885557) Attached to: CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

and sooner or later, it morphs into something you didn't expect.

Which hasn't (yet) happened in this case, as the current situation was expected and predicted back in the '80's. There was a long article in The Atlantic Monthly in maybe '83 or '84 on precisely the perverse incentives that asset forfeiture laws created for law enforcement.

The reason why things have got so bad is not because no one expected them, but because no one was able to control them given the internal incentives (as others here have pointed out, judges' salaries can be paid in part by seizures, which further corrupts the process.)

Comment: Re:In other words....Don't look like a drug traffi (Score 4, Insightful) 461

by radtea (#47884939) Attached to: CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

Please send me a list of approved attire, standards of car cleanliness, and any other requirements for not appearing like a drug dealer.

I believe the primary rules for "not looking like a drug dealer" are:

1) be white
2) be middle-class
3) be middle-age
4) be male
5) be conventional in dress, behaviour and language

And really, if you aren't a white, middle-class, middle-age, conventional male, do you really have anyone but yourself to blame?

Comment: Re:I am shocked, SHOCKED, to find gambling here... (Score 4, Informative) 461

by radtea (#47884841) Attached to: CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

Why are the Canadians surprised by this fact?

Two answers:

1) We aren't.

2) We need to be reminded now and then just how corrupt and borken the republic to our south actually is, as we tend to forget it and have trouble believing it.

Canadians, for all of our manifest imperfections, live in a relatively lawful country and take for granted that people in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand do as well. Despite being bombarded by news stories out of the US and UK in the past ten or fifteen years about how lawless things are getting there with their out-of-control security states we simply have trouble processing the practical implications.

Although... I renewed my passport recently and realized I haven't actually traveled to the US in over five years, whereas in the previous five years I had worked, lived and vacationed in the US. So we do kind of appreciate what a dangerous, arbitrary and lawless place the US has become, we just react by avoiding it rather than thinking much about it.

Comment: Re:I thought this was solved by Korn et al. (Score 1) 170

by radtea (#47883045) Attached to: Universal Big Bang Lithium Deficit Confirmed

"Solved" isn't a term properly used in the sciences, and your quite legitimate confusion here is a nice example of why.

Science is the discipline of publicly testing ideas by systematic observation, controlled experiment, and Bayesian inference. It does not produce certainty, but rather knowledge. Unfortunately, because science is still a very young discipline (only three hundred years old) we have yet to really update our language to accommodate it, so we still talk in terms of "solution" and "proof" and the like, as if we were philosophers seeking after some chimeral goal like "certainty" or the ability to turn base metals into gold.

The questions scientists are interested in here are:

1) "Which is more plausible given the evidence we have: that we are computing something wrong in our Big Bang nucleo-synthesis calculations using existing physics; that our measurements of lithium abundance are wrong; that there is new physics that affects lithium production in the Big Bang; that our chemical evolution calculations are wrong for some reason; or that something else entirely is going on that we are missing?"

and:

2) "What new evidence might we gather to clarify the situation given we currently don't have a stand-out idea that is sufficiently more plausible than the rest that no one can be bothered to do further investigations?"

Science is a human discipline, and as such is never "settled" except insofar as no on can be arsed to look at some question more deeply because the plausibility of the currently-best answer is so high (for example, while I think it very likely the Earth is heating up, I support further research like better satellite measurements of albedo: http://www.washington.edu/alum...)

With regard to lithium, we have a pretty good handle on Big Bang production assuming there is no new physics, but lithium has a number of characteristics that make it more strongly subject to the forces of what cosmologists call "chemical evolution"--the way the chemical composition of the universe changes through time due to stellar and other processes. The Korn et al work points to one particular way primoridal lithium could be hidden away. In the '90's there was similar work being done to show that various other processes could actually break lithium nuclei up over the course of the history of the universe.

Then there is also the problem that the whole "missing lithium" thing could be a result of a local anomaly in lithium abundance: after all, we have only sampled a small part of the universe. The work this /. post is about focuses on extending the reach of measurements to other galaxies, which is a start, although one could also imagine large-scale enrichment processes in the early universe that put us in a lithium-poor bubble, so no-doubt "additional work is required" to reach a sufficiently strong consensus that the missing lithium has been explained well enough to be not worth bothering with any more.

Comment: Re:Meanwhile in the real world... (Score 1) 427

by radtea (#47862821) Attached to: UN Study Shows Record-High Increases For Atmospheric CO2 In 2013

Hurricanes are a climatological event that produce extreme weather (wind, rain).

This is the most perfect example of begging the question I have ever seen on /.

The whole point of the GP's argument is that hurricanes are weather, and you have countered by simply declaring hurricanes are climate, or "climatological events", whatever that means.

Here is the problem in the simplest words I can think of:

1) Climate is a set of distributions, and is defined by the parameters of those distributions at any time.

2) Weather is a set of events drawn from those distributions.

Warmist talking heads who attribute every heat wave and extreme weather event to climate change are engaged in exactly the same fallacy as Denialist talking heads who claim every cold snap is proof of no climate change: both groups deny that the distributions in the case of a) climate change and b) no climate change overlap so substantially that only a liar or an idiot would draw any conclusion about the shape of the distribution from a single event.

Comment: Re:Science creates understanding of a real world. (Score 1) 768

by radtea (#47855157) Attached to: How Scientific Consensus Has Gotten a Bad Reputation

More complex models incorporating other known factors, within the entire range of their uncertainty levels, show the same thing.

There are levels of skepticism. While I broadly agree with your points, the scientific issue comes down to one question and the political issue to another.

The scientific question is: how well do non-physical models allow us to predict in detail the response of a complex non-linear system like the climate to an additional 0.3% forcing?

The political question is: given that the uncontroversial answer to the scientific question is "not very well", what is the best policy approach to the risks presented?

My problem, as a computational physicist, is that the "scientific consensus" that supposedly exists seems to me to radically over-state the predictive power of non-physical climate models, and I am deeply concerned that as the supposed "hiatus" continues (http://www.tjradcliffe.com/?p=1460) the falsity of the over-stated claims will be used to attack science as such.

My problem, as a citizen, is that the political question has become parasitized by radical nut-jobs who would rather fight almost-irrelevant pipelines than promote nuclear power, research geo-engineering, or implement carbon taxes. The latter, especially, has proven to be an effective policy tool in reducing CO2 emissions (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/the-insidious-truth-about-bcs-carbon-tax-it-works/article19512237/) and anyone who cares about reducing corporate and personal income taxes ought to be fully on-side with it.

Yet the best we could get in Canada from Greenpeace in 2008 was "qualified support" for the Liberal's proposed tax shift and we've heard almost nothing from the since. Why aren't they shouting from the rooftops that we could reduce personal and corporate taxes by taxing carbon? What better argument could their be for promoting and making permanently sustainable a carbon tax?

The whole "science is settled" nonsense is an attempt to shut down legitimate concerns about the predictive utility of non-physical models of a non-linear system that are routinely found to be wrong (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jan/01/climate-change-models-underestimate-likely-temperature-rise-report-shows).

And yeah, I know what the "direction" of the error is in most cases, but "better" and "worse" are not scientific terms, they are political terms. "More accurate" and "less accurate" are scientific terms, and a steady stream of news stories over the past decade has repeatedly touted the poor accuracy of GCMs.

Only in climate science are the conclusions of a model said to be more likely when the model is found to be wrong, yet that is what we routinely see: "climate models got near-term warming completely wrong so they are more likely than not correct about century-scale warming." But because climate is non-linear, it would be clearly and obviously anti-science and incorrect to claim that because the near-term error is one direction the long-term error must be in the same direction. There is simply no justification for that claim (nor the counter-claim, either, as Denialsts want us to assume.)

But the "science is settled" belief means that one can be a promoter of effective carbon tax policy, a promoter of building nuclear power plants and doing research in to geo-engineering (because really, if climate change could be a civilization-ending phenomena you've have to be utterly evil to not promote geo-engineering research, just in case) and still be an outcast to Warmists because you don't support the false belief that GCMs are very predictively useful.

Comment: Re:taxonomy (Score 1) 64

by radtea (#47837881) Attached to: Mushroom-Like Deep Sea Organism May Be New Branch of Life

DNA is also a bit of a problem - are you talking mitochondrial DNA, etc?

Valid point.

Because you don't have "one" DNA in your body. You have several thousand, minimum.

True.

Thus you are instantly several thousand species in a single individual and actually your largest amount of DNA probably isn't "you", as such.

False.

Or: that word "you" keep using does not mean what you think it means. You have for some unaccountable reason suddenly started using "you" to mean something completely different from what everyone everywhere always has meant by "you"--a genetically and morphologically human individual, the offspring of human parents--to mean "an entity that will be designated as 'hydrogen' because there are more hydrogen atoms in it than any other type."

Or something like that. It would be as silly to insist on calling people hydrogen because it is our most common constituent as it would be to start calling people non-human because they happen to contain more bacterial cells than human cells. Yet studying and even classifying some aspects of our physical being based on our chemistry can still be useful.

The biological species concept, and therefore taxonomy as such, is pretty sketchy. But there is likely a lot more value in genetic taxonomy than morphological taxonomy, which is barely above folk taxonomy in many respects. Similar structures don't tell us much about evolutionary history, which is what we mostly care about as biologists.

Comment: Re:Astroturfing for Hillary Clinton (Score 3, Insightful) 1134

by radtea (#47829021) Attached to: Combating Recent, Ugly Incidents of Misogyny In Gamer Culture

I think it takes millions of rapists (mostly men natch) to reach that number.

And you would be wrong. At least, you would be wrong if you are implying anything other than the majority of rapes are committed by a small minority of predatory men.

How small?

75-80% of rapes are committed by 4-5% of men: http://www.tjradcliffe.com/?p=...

That's still seven or eight million men in absolute terms, of course, but far fewer than what is erroneously claimed by the old, failed, misandrist "rape is nothing less than a conscious conspiracy by all men against all women" model.

It is easy for us, as humans, to leap from "all rapists are men" to "all men are rapists". Even if the former proposition were true (it isn't) the latter is unrelated to it.

There is a population of sociopathic predators in our midst. Most of them are men. All of them are dangerous. Their victims are both men and women (we don't even know what the rate of male victimization in sexual assault is... all we know is that the reported rate is much lower than for women, but it would be, wouldn't it?)

Focusing on men vs women rather than citizens vs predators is exactly what the predators need to keep on preying on the innocent. It's time we stopped doing that.

Computers can figure out all kinds of problems, except the things in the world that just don't add up.

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