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Comment Useless Bandaid (Score 1) 634

Why should it matter if there are fewer female engineers than male engineers? Women outnumber men by a large percentage in most humanities graduate programs but it would be absurd to suggest we need to do something to fix that situation. People have gotten so caught up in the numbers that they have forgotten the *REASON* we care about underrepresentation.


This supposed solution is at odds with that concern. After all, if women aren't entering engineering simply because they don't find engineering jobs as attractive (and not because they were discouraged) there is no problem at all. Both men and women are simply choosing the type of work they prefer to do. If it turns out that women find work that is more socially meaningful more fulfilling that's great for them and we shouldn't mourn because they choose the type of work they prefer.

Moreover, this kind of "solution" doesn't really address the underlying problem we care about. If women are being discriminated against or discouraged from studying STEM subjects then no incentives at the college level removes that discouragement or discrimination. Even if you gain gender equality in engineering you haven't made things any better if, but for discrimination/discouragement, women would have made up 75% of the profession. This is just a band-aid to make people look better not a solution.

Comment Speaking In A Moral Context (Score 3, Insightful) 894

It bears remembering that Pope Francis is speaking in a moral fashion not a legal one. Thus, when he says there are limits to free speech it is important to remember he may be talking about what is *morally* ok to express not what is legally protected.

I'm a strong free speech absolutist and I believe it is important to explain to people just why religious belief is irrational and unjustified. Yet, nevertheless, I am well aware that while it is an important legal right it would also be wrong to be particularly rude or unecessarily mean in speaking. Just because we have the legal right to offer deadly insults doesn't mean we should exercisce that right.

Having said this it is important that religion not be given special protection. Many things are important to people. People are mocked in political cartoons all the time...often in a fairly intense or insulting fashion and religion should recieve no more protection. To the extent Pope Francis is disagreeing with this I disapprove of his remarks...but given that the catholic church is one of the great believers in the right to accuse other religions of being wrong I'm not sure that is how they should be interpreted.

Comment Low Voter Turnout is a FEATURE (Score 1) 480

Consider what low voter turnout does to the election process. If everyone voted the only thing that would matter is convincing 50% of the voters, no matter how little they care, that some issue (candidate, referendum etc..) was every so slightly more desirable. How much they care, the fact that 49% of the population might care intensely that something not happen while 51% only very mildly approve wouldn't matter.

On the other hand, because people often don't bother to vote, not only how many people want something to happen but also how much they want it matters. For instance (hypothetically) imagine a state initiative legalizing same sex marriage where a minority cares very strongly about gays having the right to marry while a slight majority finds the idea unpleasant and sees no reason to change things but doesn't care very much. Currently, the fact that that minority would turn out in greater numbers when the issue is on the ballot (or candidates who support/oppose gay marriage are running) means that their greater concern matters.

Isn't it better that, while everyone retains the right to vote whenever they want, a minority who cares greatly wields more weight on that issue than the indifferent majority?

Comment Re:Can't draw conclusions from this study (Score 1) 350

He meant about this matter. He is also wrong.

He is wrong because he makes the mistake that a finding of no statistically significant result means the result doesn't provide evidence.

To see this is wrong imagine you initially thought people were probably (but not certainly) likely to react to these pictures in a racist way. Scientists perform larger and larger surveys never surveying every person but failing to find any statistically significant difference with arbitrarily large populations (assume for simplicity there is an arbitrarily large number of humans). No matter how likely you found the question initially at some point you will find the result so improbable if the claim is true that it provides enough evidence to reject the claim.

Statistical significance is a trick for giving a gauge of how persuasive you should find the result given your priors. Since different people have different priors it's not usually useful to assume a certain prior probability distribution of results, e.g., the probability that people are at least X% more likely to judge a black woman negatively when breastfeeding. So we tell people the significance of a study and if they want to know how it affects their beliefs they figure out just how surprising a result of that kind with that level of statistical significance is on their model if the claim is true and if it is false. Theoretically they could apply bayes theorem to practice we use a more heuristic approach. To see this has to be true note that no study will shift your belief if you think it is already true with probability 1 or 0.

Then again this is almost impossible to teach in a full year stat course so few people who don't already know this are likely to understand.

Comment Re:Can't draw conclusions from this study (Score 1) 350

It doesn't contradict it.

However, it does provide EVIDENCE against the hypothesis.

Given some prior probability A that you have for believing that people do in fact respond in a racist way to the picture as long as his result is less probable if not A is true than if A is true Bayes theorem requires that your probability for A conditioned on his result be lower than your prior probability.

In other words he ruled out something that you would have been more likely to predict if A were true that if ~A were so that fact must, at least a little, decrease your belief that A is true.

Comment Re:Most people don't object to public breast feedi (Score 1) 350

Except cows udders aren't larger than you would expect given evolutionary pressures ignoring mate selection. Breasts and the depth of male voice and 1,000 other things are no different than a peacock's tail. The result of selective pressure purely on the basis of their ability to attract sexual mates despite the inherent uselessness or even harm to survival and physical reproduction they provide.

I mean evolution selects for those who get the best mates. What the hell *wouldn't* be sexual? I bet even bad teenage poetry has a biological basis in sex selection for mates with greater intelligence/wordplay. It's useless but a good signal of a desirable trait.

Comment Re:Most people don't object to public breast feedi (Score 1) 350

Umm, so why would an otherwise disadvantageous feature like enlarged breasts (bad for balance, backs etc..) be selected for to such a degree that it was universal among human females. Other than sexual display you got nothing.

Any display that functions as a valid signal of sexual fitness that can be picked up by evolution will picked up by evolution and used in mate selection. Why would breasts be so different? Do you doubt that women are attracted to deep male voices or larger shoulders and men have evolved to overemphasize these traits as a result?

You might say, "showing breasts isn't biologically determined to convey a sexual invitation." This is no doubt true. Then again so little of human behavior isn't so modulated by culture that anything short of penetration isn't determined by biology to be a sexual invitation with high probability. In our culture It's not at all absurd to think a girl might merely be a friend despite the fact that she bent down, spread her legs and rubbed her ass up against your cock if she was dancing with you at a club. Even more can be done in special contexts like movies or film without conveying an actual sexual invitation. On the other hand showing an uncovered face, in other cultures, can convey sexual invitation.

Sorry, but there just isn't a nice line to be drawn. Nearly everything humans do is partly sexual, even the most innocent play in childhood mimes and explores behavior that will later be used to attract mates and nothing short of sex is necessarily conveys sexual intent.

Ignore the idiots obsessed with the connection to reproduction. It doesn't even make sense to connect what biologically follows from child birth to sexual behavior. Screaming in pain is biologically caused by child birth yet is the farthest thing possible from openly sexual.

Comment Re:Most people don't object to public breast feedi (Score 1) 350

Your argument defeats itself.

First, "large" is relative. It's sure as hell larger than pure function requires. And no it's not "some" women. Go look at an ape sometime and let me know what women raised with good food and health you know of who have a similarly unobtrusive breasts. Even sub A cups put the animals to shame.

Secondly, the fact that women, given adequate nutrition health etc.., are disposed to evolve larger breasts *proves* that breast size is a good advertisement for underlying sexual fitness. In other words, since those women with good health who had plenty of food would have had larger breasts in the evolutionary environment it would be super surprising if men in that environment weren't selected to respond to a true signal of reproductive fitness like this.

I mean your post itself basically admits that breasts function like a peacock's tail. They are disposed, when nutrition and health allow, to grow substantially larger than needed despite the inherent reduction in fitness that larger breasts pose (backs, running speed etc.. etc..).

Sure, there is nothing special about breasts. They are like men's shoulders or voices or women's hips. They are constrained by certain functional requirements but serve as an indicator of sexual fitness as well and tend to draw interest of the opposite sex.

Comment Re:Most people don't object to public breast feedi (Score 1) 350

This is clearly false as a matter of evolutionary biology.

Breasts need only be very small to serve the function of feeding a nursing child. Many types of apes have very tiny breasts and are perfectly able to nurse their offspring. Human breasts are much larger than any purely functional explanation would predict.

So why do female humans have such large breasts, despite the problems that large breasts can cause? Sex-selective pressure. The same reason peacocks have such giant useless tails. Human breasts are inherently secondary sexual markers and, as such, like a peacock's tail will be subject to selective pressure in that capacity. As women's breasts evolved to be larger to exaggerate the secondary sexual characteristic this display would, in itself, be evidence of sexual fitness and good genes and thus men would experience selective pressure to prefer larger than needed female breasts.

So, umm, no. They are an inherent sexual advertisement. Then again so are lots of things. Women's hips and men's shoulders and voices are also secondary sexual characteristics and the other sex has almost surely experienced sexual pressure to respond to such things (among a great many others...don't say it isn't true just because you don't like them...all I need to prove is that these features attract mates in every society more often than a random non gender specific feature).

Perhaps what you mean to say is that breasts aren't inherently pornographic? Maybe, but that's an implicitly moral and cultural judgement and clearly goes further than you want to claim. Perhaps you mean something like "showing your breasts isn't an intrinsically an indication of sexual intent" but then again neither is anything short of behavior biologically probable to lead to pregnancy (fucking...or even deliberate mutual sexual stimulation which tends to make people fuck). What conveys intent is always the fact that the other person *knows* you realize they would be inclined to interpret the action in that fashion and that you choose to do so in that knowledge. Society could decide that :-) meant you want to fuck and that would make sending a smiley face openly sexual since that's what everyone understands it to mean.

Comment Re:Seconded. (Score 2) 350

Umm, he gave you enough information to do the significance test yourself under standard polling assumptions.

No, he didn't use a particularly large sample size. But the way the sampling distribution works means that you pretty quickly reach the level of diminishing returns so his survey is a pretty good guide to whether there is a substantial difference in reactions.

Are his respondents trully selected at random from the population under examination (as all the statistical tools assume). Well no, not really. But neither are academic studies (either is a telephone/internet poll or undergraduates at fancy universities) nor traditional telephone polling. The fact that Pew calls up 10,000 people (or whatever to get the appropriate number of responses) can't change the fact that the people who take the time to answer telephone surveys differ substantially from the population at large. However, unless there is some particular reason to think that the group polled (undergrads, mechanical turk workers etc..) will have a different take on the question at large (undergrads probably aren't the right people to ask "Is a college education a useful investment") we still take the results to have substantial persuasive value.

Having said this I do think there is good reason to be skeptical of the studies conclusions. This study put the picture in a formal professional context. I don't care if your *employer* calls them fun pictures of people in our division/department everyone realizes you don't submit actually fun pictures but ones that reflect workplace norms. Even though employers often look at facebook pages it doesn't make them an employer webpage and while few employers would post a picture of someone good naturedly giving the photographer the finger or of a woman who had participated in a wet T-shirt contest many years ago in college few would care if they were published on a non-executives employee' facebook page. Worse, the question asked about an employee chosen picture.

So who would SUGGEST it was appropriate to submit a breast feeding picture to your employers webpage? Unlike actually breast-feeding in public which, while you know it may make some people uncomfortable, can often be the only way to feed your child while going about your professional business, the only reason to submit a picture of you breastfeeding is to make a point about the matter. Also this is very unlike breast-feeding on your facebook page (you aren't trying to force the image on purely professional contacts only "friends") which is theoretically aimed at friends. So I tend to suspect the only people who will find that an appropriate thing to do on an employers webpage are those who thoroughly support the point being made. Anyone who has a view somewhere in the middle, e.g., it seems unprofessional to them and makes them feel awkward but understands that there isn't really another option for mothers in many contexts and if that's the picture you share on facebook they don't have to look, is stripped out by the language suggesting this is self-selected for the employers webpage. Since it is those who are on the fence which are probably most influenced by supposedly extraneous factors like the person's race this language tends to particularly avoid.

Personally, this is the problem I have with the MANNER some women choose to breast feed in public. The fact that certain people feel uncomfortable about it isn't a good reason for mothers to endure substantial hardship feeding their children. Just as the fact that working with someone who privately has strong views about a controversial topic (religion, atheism etc..) isn't a good reason to try and clamp down on personal bloggers or *private* political conversations between friends overhead in the office. However, in both cases there is a reasonable duty to exercise this freedom with reasonable respect in the office place. You and the guy down the hall and three other guys at work might bond over Jesus and maybe that sometimes makes the loan muslim feel a bit uncomfortable when he over hears you guys talking at the water cooler. Well his discomfort shouldn't stop you from chatting with friends even in the office. On the other hand if you go out of your way to shove it in his face, talking about it loudly when the whole office goes out for drinks or switching to that topic when he shows up it's your problem.

Similarly, taking reasonable steps to be discreet when nursing your child (being as least revealing as possible, asking if people mind....if you only occasionally have short meetings like a professor trying to avoid breastfeeding while a student is in your office....not having a child not totally sure if the last one is reasonable...trying isn't moving mountains and doesn't mean putting up with a squalling child) is required by professional courtesy and avoids the appearance of deliberately thrusting your breast feeding in someone's face. Worse is when some women use their breast-feeding to implicitly suggest that those women in the workplace who couldn't or didn't breast-feed their child for a similar length of time aren't as good of a parent. Unfortunately, some women who take themselves to be advancing the cause of breast-feeding do it harm by using the background understanding that sometimes a child needs to be feed at times privacy would be too professionally costly to deliberately thrust their breast-feeding in the face of those in the workplace or who couple their breast-feeding with constant talk about how healthy and better it is (perhaps not realizing the implicit insult they give those who didn't/couldn't).

This is sad. For instance, my wife who works in an academic profession and would never dream of saying no if a fellow professor asked if they minded if they breast feed, can still be startled when someone just undoes their shirt. I personally would be offended at the lack of a nod to a respectful request. Hell, I would ask during a meeting if the other party minded I use the restroom (though they better come up with a good reason to will only take 1 second...and I think anyone who objects to breastfeeding has the obligation to take up the cost of avoiding it...they have to offer to come back in 10 minutes not expect the mother to wait). The reason it's ok to breastfeed but not just flash people randomly is that you need to feed your don't *NEED* the other person to watch and if *THEY* care about it enough to undertake the burden of not seeing it's not proper to force it on them. The existence of these women makes it harder for all women who need to breast-feed and unnaturally politicizes what should be a simple matter of reasonable accommodation to need.

And of course there will be *some* implicit racism in reactions (though it may be fairly small). People are implicitly racist. Even by a very young age we react differently to those who look like us. We are implicitly racist about support for the poor (favoring it more when they are the same race) but I would be stunned if we were more implicitly racist about breast-feeding.

Comment Wired Access Will Still Be Standard (Score 4, Informative) 99

Sorry, but wires will always have substantially greater bandwidth. If for no other reason than you can run one (or even several) wires into each structure and get at least as much bandwidth as is shared over a wide area by the plane.

Since bandwidth use will no doubt continue to increase by the time we have these giant broadband stationary planes everyone will want too much bandwidth to make them a reasonable competitor for fiber (and multiplexing will move down market into the home eventually).

Comment A Vexing Problem We Can Force Facebook To Fix (Score 2) 305

Obviously the current system in which individuals with ideological axes to grind can negatively impact communities where people don't go by their legal names. However, it's not obvious what the right rule should be. Of course I think you should be able to use psuedonyms, nicknames, stage names etc.. etc.. on facebook but how do you deal with facebook identity theft.

So I have Jane Mary Tyler Doe. I go create a facebook account pretending to be her and, if she isn't a huge celebrity, it wouldn't be too hard to convince a large number of people (probably anyone not already friends with the real individual) that I'm really Jane Mary Tyler Doe. I can then use that account to make her look like a racist, ruin relationships with coworkers and potential employers etc.. etc... unless my fake account can be suspended quit quickly. Alright how can facebook do this.

1) A real names policy. True, this has all the bad consequences above but it allows them to immediately suspend accounts but isn't vulnerable to serious DOS type attacks since a since credit card transaction or the like can quickly confirm someone's legal name and prevent any false impersonation accusation from ever causing another suspension. Given the low probability that someone with the same name wants to engage in the impersonation facebook has enough human hours to evaluate these rare situations in reasonable detail.

But this undermines an essential purpose of facebook. To let people present themselves online to the same people they know offline meaning stage names, nicknames etc.. etc..

2) A no impersonation rule. Alright now someone asserts the account Jennifer Doe is impersonating her. What can facebook do? If the suspend the existing account things are even worse since instead of creating a fake account someone with ill-intent asserts that the current account holder is an imposter gets their account suspended and now controls the only account representing itself to be Jennifer Doe's. Given the size of facebook they simply can't stop anyone from creating any new account with that name and the impersonator could create an account Jen Doe.

The very fact that people are allowed to use names other than their legal names means there is no good heuristic to see who is likely the deliberate imposter. After all Jennifer Doe might be the name she goes by in school but the name on her birth certificate could well be Bertha Jennifer Doe and Jennifer might not even appear on things like credit cards meaning facebook doesn't even have a good guess as to the imposter.

Also this creates the possibility of a DOS attack against any account (keep claiming it is an imposter account from accounts). If facebook eventually stops viewing such imposter accusations as real then any imposter who gets their before the real user can simply launch a bunch of accusations of imposterization at themselves until they insulate themselves against any accusation from the person they are actually impostering (after all they can be a perfectly legit Jennifer Doe account then change their picture and other details later to impersonate a target).


What they should do is basically implement a web of trust style infrastructure. Facebook can start occasionally asking people who frequently message or are listed as close friends whether the person they talked to or the person with that email address really went to school such and such. Also friend requests should include a couple of selected bits of public info (like email address and the like) which, would hopefully make impersonization more difficult.

Ultimately, however, facebook needs to have a attestation system akin to key signing. You get your close friends to attest that the person whose picture and details appear in the facebook account really controls the account. Details will be a pain in the ass but it's the only plausible way since impersonization is a matter of details like schools, pictures etc.. etc.. not real names and facebook just can't check those themselves. They can only create tools to indicate potentially untrustworthy representations.


We can force them to do this by using their real name policy against immigrants. Even my immigrant friends from places like Russia are known by significantly different names than are on their legal documents (and those are often inconsistant). Chinese immigrants often have legal names that even many close friends don't even know. If we start a campaign to force all these people to use real names both the spector of being seen as discriminatory plus the real risk to their business will change the policy damn quick.

Comment Multiple master secrets (Score 1) 76

Of course you can have as many master secrets as you want with each controlled by a different entity but those master public keys need to be distributed somehow. However, if you try and allow any master secret to work with any email you have exactly the system we have with ssl certs and we know that won't work for things like email. After all if any master secret can generate a private key for any email that means that if any master key is compromised so is the whole system. I believe it also requires that anyone encrypting messages needs information about all the master keys so it really is like certs, you trust all the root certs in the list that comes with your software.

On the other hand if each email address can specify the master key to use with it we are back to the problem of key distribution as the choice of master public key for your email address functions just like a public key (to send you encrypted messages the sender needs to know it and if they are tricked into using the wrong one you get a MITM attack).

Obviously, I use email to stand in for whatever identifier one has in mind.

Comment No better than using gmail (Score 1) 76

As any such identity based encryption requires a master secret (or secrets) that is used to generate the private keys (if not anyone who knows your email can generate a private key for that public key and thus read anything encrypted to you) you might as well just be using gmail and counting on google not to get hacked. After all, you can't compromise every gmail account by gaining access to a few servers but anyone who hacks the server with the master secret brings down the whole system in IBE. And gmail also provides transport security and tls for your web connections so why even bother with IBE unless your correspondent doesn't have transport level security.

MAYBE you could create some kind of large distributed infrastructure for storing the master key but at that point it seems easier just to distribute standard public keys directly.

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