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Comment Re:To any doctor who says it's useless (Score 1) 279

Both pill pushers and most diagnostician work is problematical. See my comment here: http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=4407051&cid=45332611

The reason diagnosis is problematical is that most illness in our society comes from poor nutrition (and sometimes other lifestyle choices). The body may break down in endless different ways on a poor diet -- but the commonality of the poor diet. So why even bother in most cases to figure out specifically how the disease is cause by poor diet? Granted, some small amount of disease may not fit this model -- but most does. For stuff that does not fit, we are getting better computer tools for diagnosis every day.

Maybe of interest: http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelellsberg/2011/07/18/how-i-overcame-bipolar-ii/
"What came out of my year without sugar, coffee, or alcohol? I got my life back."

And look into Omega 3s, Vitamin D, light therapy, and eating more vegetables:

Migraine are often triggered by food additives, especially sulfites.

Good luck!

Comment The true legacy of the Flexner Report (Score 1) 279

"Of course, as others have pointed out, it all boils down to how the AMA keeps MDs artificially scarce so that their wages are inflated way beyond what they need to be. ..."

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexner_Report
"The Flexner Report[1] is a book-length study of medical education in the United States and Canada, written by the professional educator Abraham Flexner and published in 1910 under the aegis of the Carnegie Foundation. Many aspects of the present-day American medical profession stem from the Flexner Report and its aftermath.
The Report (also called Carnegie Foundation Bulletin Number Four) called on American medical schools to enact higher admission and graduation standards, and to adhere strictly to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research. Many American medical schools fell short of the standard advocated in the Flexner Report, and subsequent to its publication, nearly half of such schools merged or were closed outright. The Report also concluded that there were too many medical schools in the USA, and that too many doctors were being trained. A repercussion of the Flexner Report, resulting from the closure or consolidation of university training, was reversion of American universities to male-only admittance programs to accommodate a smaller admission pool. ...
    One of the consequences of Flexner's advocacy of university-based medical education was that medical education became much more expensive, putting such education out of reach of all but upper-class white men. The small "proprietary" schools Flexner condemned, which were contended to have been based in generations-old folk traditions rather than relatively recent Western science, did admit African-Americans, women, and students of limited financial means. These students usually could not afford six to eight years of university education, and were often simply denied admission to medical schools affiliated with universities. While many such doctors continued to practice, they did so under proscribed circumstances and for less pay. It was also more difficult for people of color, residents of rural areas, and for those of limited means to obtain medical care in any form."

Before writing this report, Flexner has studied school children and realized that hands-on learning was better than the rote learning prevalent at the time. His suggestions about that were mostly ignored. Unfortunately, he applied the same idea to medical training where it is for many reasons inappropriate. Ultimately, being a "hands on" problem solving physician is mostly a bad idea. Most illnesses people suffer from relate to diet, lifestyle, poverty, and social stress. See Dr. Joel Fuhrnan or Dr. Andre Weil's writings for examples. Physicians should have been taught the basics in these areas, and learned how to persuade patients to return to healthy cultural basics. Instead, they became pill pushers and procedure pushers, always treating and palliating, but rarely preventing or curing. And over the past century, US Americans in many ways have become sicker and sicker, suffering from "disease of affluence" like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and gout, with an increasing "frailspan" at the end of life. Yet, we have known a better ways towards health, for thousands of years, including sunlight, eating more vegetables, fasting, humor, and so on.. Still, a good solid maybe 20% of modern medicine is indeed useful and miraculous (like trauma surgery) -- it's just that most of the rest is problematical.. One example -- the scam of most heart surgery:
"Interventional cardiology and cardiovascular surgery is basically a scam based on a misunderstanding of the nature of heart disease. Searching for and treating obstructive plaque does not address the areas of the coronary vascular tree most likely to rupture and cause heart attacks. If there was never another CABG or angioplasty performed or stent placed, patients with heart disease would be better off. Doctors would be forced to educate our citizens that their heart disease risk is determined by what they place on their forks. Millions of lives would be dramatically extended. To abandon the theory of stretching and cutting out areas with plaque would shut down interventional cardiology, nearly all cardiovascular surgery, and many suppliers of the biotechnology. In many cases, interventional cardiology is the major income generator to hospitals. The ending of this ill-conceived, out-dated and ineffective technology would dramatically downsize hospitals in the United States and free up over $100 billion annually in medical care costs. Besides being ineffective, interventional cardiology places the responsibility in the hands of the doctor and not the patients. When patients finally realize they must take control of their heart problems with aggressive dietary modifications (and when needed medications for temporary periods) we will essentially solve the health crisis in America.
    The sad thing is surgical interventions and medications are the foundation of modern cardiology and both are relatively ineffective compared to nutritional excellence. My patients routinely reverse their heart disease, and no longer have vulnerable plaque or high blood pressure, so they do not need medical care, hospitals or cardiologists anymore. The problem is that in the real world cardiac patients are not even informed that heart disease is predictably reversed with nutritional excellence. They are not given the opportunity to choose and just corralled into these surgical interventions.
    Trying to figure out how to pay for ineffective and expensive medicine by politicians will never be a real solution. People need to know they do not have to have heart disease to begin with, and if they get it, aggressive nutrition is the most life-saving intervention. And it is free."

See also: http://www.pdfernhout.net/to-james-randi-on-skepticism-about-mainstream-science.html#Some_quotes_on_social_problems_in_science

Comment Watson will lower costs and increase quality... (Score 1) 279

"And what bright minds are going to go to 4 years of med school at around $50k per year after college (or even $0 per year if you fix that), then do residency at 80 hours/week for 3-7 more years after that, for around a decade of extra training, to get out making $100k for 60-80hrs week of work with no flexibility, working nights/weekend/holidays, missing family events, kids birthdays, etc etc? Answer; no one you want diagnosing or operating on you. Probably no one, period."

Thus, something like Watson will eventually replace them and work 24X7 at a much lower cost and with much greater accuracy overall, although before that, it will let fewer doctors do the work of more:

Comment Re:First Step = ID the smarter people (Score 1) 251

Or, y'know, you're a white dude born March 29, 1955 in Raleigh, North Carolina. [duke.edu]. But nice try. I never said anybody got in "only" because of their family's wealth. But stress levels in the first six months of life have a huge impact on brain function. Affluence is strongly correlated to better education at all levels. Worse yet, the study is sampling from profs at US universities. And affluence in the US is strongly correlated to race. Not even bothering to look at institutions in India, Japan, China, Russia, or Korea. There's a huge amount of mathematical talent in these countries that is largely unknown to American mathematicians. Gonna be hard to tease "whitey with a Y-chromosome" out of the data.

Again, I don't argue with any of that, although it isn't 1970 any more and there's a lot more racial balance than you perhaps might think especially in the top institutions that get their pick of the best people in the world, not just the US. Our department chair is female and chinese, for example. In our department we have tenured faculty from China, Korea, India, Pakistan, Israel, as well as non-white and/or non-male faculty who are second generation plus American citizens. We're way past the point where any of this is a "token" representation, and Duke has been actively trying to increase the diversity of its faculty with new hires for decades at this point. We still suffer somewhat from damage done back in the 70's and 80's (or earlier) -- it takes 25+ years to grow a physics Ph.D., maybe 30 to get them through a postdoc and get on a tenure track, and there is still a disparity in the numbers of women that are majoring in physics and pursuing a Ph.D. but the gap is gradually narrowing.

As for whether or not it is a shit study -- sure, maybe it is. One of many things I study is how the brain learns and what sort of factors might count as "intelligence". Intelligence itself is quite difficult to define or measure, and there are numerous studies that suggest that it is remarkably easy to obtain biased results when studying it, especially if one uses a comparatively narrow definition and ignores selection biases such as the ones you describe. It is also fairly well known at this point that a person's intelligence is governed by many factors, BOTH genetic AND environmental, and that for a person to attain the sort of peak accomplishments in math or science that the study is using as an inclusion criterion, one very likely has to HAVE both factors in some sort of fortuitous constellation.

But again, the only way you can properly conclude that it is a shit study is from looking well beyond the level of description in the top article. In particular, the only way you can know is to know how they are going to manage their Bayesian priors and how they are designing the selection process beyond "pulling from top math and physics departments". And statistics (especially Bayesian statistics) is a particular area of study of mine, BTW, so I know more than a bit about what I'm talking about. The quality of their results will depend on how they utilize that which is already known and control for the very biases you list. They CAN almost certainly arrange for their sample to be well-distributed across different races and/or country of origin and gender, depending on how many participants they end up with and how deep they go into the pool of top-ranked Universities even just in the US, as the US has been pulling a large fraction of the best mathematicians and scientists of the world for close to a century just because it is a comparatively nice and safe place to live. Whether they WILL do this depends on the motivations of the people conducting the study, whether they have some hypothesis stated or otherwise that they wish to prove, their competence in statistics and methodology, none of which I can speak to.

But again, all of these things are critical factors in ANY study of genetic traits desirable or undesirable that might be conducted. If you were looking at the genetics of extreme height and had a limited budget and wanted an easy way to get a pool of very tall persons who might be easy to recruit and track, starting out with the pool of basketball forwards and centers in college and/or the pros would likely give you an easy way to get a start. Sure, the pool might be dominated by African-Americans disproportionate to the population, the part of the pool that is female might be much smaller (but growing), one might well miss whole classes of very tall persons with e.g. Marfans or Acromegaly that have associated genetic disorders that keep tall people off of sports teams, and countries like China or India or parts of Europe might be heavily underepresented, but you would have enough of a pool such that -- with care -- you could correct for at least some of those things if you come up with alternative strategies for sampling and recruitment outside of this pool later and make some effort to balance your selection process now.

If your GOAL is to prove that "black males grow taller than white males" then of course you can probably manage it with this pool as well. If you want to prove that males get to be taller than females, you can prove that too. If you want to prove that Aleutians don't genetically grow as tall as Caucasians, I'm sure one can find a way. However, any competent designer of such a study will use Bayesian priors (note well, some of these assertions are TRUE as far as we know from enormous data -- males DO get to be taller, on average, than females, no matter how you control for diet and environment) to avoid making inferences that are not warranted on the basis of what is already known.

You openly acknowledge your ignorance about study methodology, general statistics, and from the sound of it you really don't know of or understand Bayes' theorem and the correct analysis of joint and conditional probabilities in multifactorial reasoning. So perhaps you could either take the time to learn them (which isn't really particularly difficult -- the derivation of Bayes' theorem is typically in chapters one or two in most decent statistics texts and is literally only one or two lines connecting joint, conditional, and marginal probabilites, although studying Bayesian statistics per se would probably require that you buy a decent book on it and skimming through it to get a feel for how prior knowledge alters naive conclusions drawn from conditionally biased data) OR you could accept the possibility that while pulling from top US university physics and math departments COULD introduce biases, "teasing whitey with a Y-chromosome out of the data" could actually fairly easily be done both with additional selection criteria and/or Bayesian corrections afterwards. THAT'S not necessarily the problem with this study.

I'm be a lot more concerned with other weaknesses. For example, no matter how you slice it, the pool will be tiny simply because mathematical "genius" is rare and difficult to identify. Their pool is far more likely to contain representatives than the general population (which is good) just like the pool of basketball forwards and centers, but even if they grazed ALL US universities or all the universities in the world, they might come up with a pool containing only a few dozen actual "geniuses" and another few hundred people (worldwide!) of above average intelligence or mathematical accomplishment (for many reasons and of many types, because intelligence mathematical or otherwise is highly multifactorial). There are many genes. Perhaps there are indeed one or two genes (outside of obvious stupidity, e.g. Y-linked factors or racial factors with inadequate data and possible confounding factors as well) that are "different" for at least some mathematical geniuses, but it will be very difficult to get a pool large enough to be able to make such a statement as a believable conclusion unless the association is so strong it reaches out and smacks you upside the head (which I'm reasonably sure will not be the case, but if somebody wants to fund a looksee, more power to them).

In statistics there is something called "the curse of dimensionality". Even for a well-defined, narrow genetic disorder, identifying the specific genetic cofactors is difficult. For example, finding BRCA1 (one of many genes that are strongly correlated with breast cancer) is all well and good, but my wife's family has three known generations of women who have died or suffered from breast cancer, and they've tested negative for BRCA1. All that means is that they (probably, at this point) have some OTHER gene that is still unidentified in the family tree; the alternative hypothesis being that they are just very unlucky has a very low p-value at this point. Or it might be a constellation of six or seven genes, not one specific mutation. Intelligence in general (at the genetic level) is almost certainly a lot more about gene constellations, not single genes, and in order to identify a constellation of (say) five or ten genes one has to have five or ten POWERS larger sample sizes to achieve equal statistical resolution, or one has to use truly serious (and somewhat fortuitous) math to reduce the effective dimensionality in the event that there are some projective dimensions where one can obtain partial resolution of the constellation and then perhaps refine it with somewhat less.

That's what you really should be criticizing in this study. The claims made in the top article sounded to me to be overweening and extremely unlikely to be accomplished unless (as I said) one or two genes turns out to be strongly correlated indeed and fall right out at their feet, after a WELL DONE statistical analysis that accounts for trivial confounding stuff and well-known Bayesian priors. This would be equivalent to finding the math-genius equivalent of BRCA1 -- "a" causal factor, when it happens, but not sufficient to explain more than a small fraction of all of the cases, and the ones that they cannot find from such a small study with such a limited selection process might well be highly multifactorial. This struck me the instant I read the description.

The second "obvious" problem is one you've alluded to repeatedly and that is quite correct -- it is well known that intelligence is remarkably plastic and strongly correlated with numerous environmental factors, both in animal studies and in human studies. There is little doubt that there are ALSO genetic factors -- you cannot just "create a math genius" by raising a child in some sort of math-genius-optimized environment -- but on the other hand if you take a female child with math-genius-genes and raise them in a poor village in Afghanistan where they are prevented from even learning to read, you are probably not going to end up with a math genius and if you did, it would be difficult beyond all measure to detect it with any sort of test once the child reached adulthood or develop it if you could detect it. It is this that MOTIVATES their selection pool -- all or most of the people in the pool ex post facto had an adequately supportive developmental environment AND at least some genetic predisposition towards math intelligence, allowing them to at least partially control for environment. But this does not truly resolve the curse of dimensionality, because environmental factors are all additional dimensions and hence help dilute the selection pool even for single gene factors. That is, suppose there is a gene, let's call it MGG1 -- math genius gene 1 -- that is perfectly predictive of the capacity to become a math genius. However, let us also suppose that the prevalence in the population is (say) 1 in a billion, so that at the moment there are 7 individuals with this gene worldwide. Suppose further that one requires some degree of affluence in order to be able to "express" this gene and rise to actually become a mathematical genius in an academic setting (and grant that for those individuals, it is highly likely that they will do just this given the opportunity, although that is not really certain). Then you could easily lose (say) four out of the seven to global poverty before the study begins. Note well that you cannot recover these individuals by better selection criteria -- they are truly lost. Of the three that remain, perhaps two will end up in academia and have a comparatively high probability of being in the recruitment pool. So you might well have ONE OR TWO MGG1 individuals in your entire recruitment pool. Or three. Or even four. But you'll never have all seven, and given the degree of shared genetic homology across the population of humans in general, you are most unlikely to discover MGG1 even if you really do end up with (say) fifty or sixty "certified math geniuses" of all races and genders in your final selection pool.

Then there is MGG2, MGG3, and four constellations that we might call MGGs1-MGGs4 (s for spectrum) all in this same population, each with a handful of environmentally enabled representatives in the pool. Resolving them from the general population/control group is going to be insanely difficult. What they are maybe HOPING for is that our imaginary MGG1 is present in 20-30 of the group of 50-60 that they end up with. That's really very close to what it would take to make a convincing case for it, one that would justify screening a control population for MGG1 and seeing if it is predictive for strong math skills if not genius.

So sure, their study could end up being shit. Maybe they have an axe to grind. Maybe they are complete idiots and will only employ incompetent geneticists and biostatisticians. Maybe they will have a hard time recruiting people and end up with a biased sample because the "real math geniuses" in their pool don't give a fuck and decline to participate. Most likely of all, the correct conclusion of the study will be that they cannot find any likely candidate genes for "math genius" given the low prevalence of math genius worldwide, with or without a favorable environment and the probable fact that it is genetically multifactorial (leading to the curse of dimensionality). If so, it will be in the excellent company of countless genetic searches for patterns associated with diseases or syndromes that have come up short (so far). It's a hard problem. But it might not be done badly, it might not try to prove something, it might be done using what is already known about intelligence intelligently, and it might even discover MGG1 if there is such a thing, and there might be such a thing.

So once again, be cynical -- I'm cynical. Be skeptical. I'm skeptical. But I don't think it is a priori obvious that the study is going to be irretrievably flawed just because it draws from a pool of people who have demonstrated that they have SOME constellation of genetics and environment that led them to become mathematically gifted instead of attempting to tackle the impossible task of identifying people who grew up without the environmental factors needed or the difficult task of identifying the people who have both genetic and environmental factors but are working at Starbucks or are selling grilled meats on Asian street corners or even those who became computer scientists, philosophers, or financial analysts instead. Does it introduce certain biases into the selection pool? Without any doubt. But the people running the study know that unless they are so stupid that they are very much in the out group of the study they are trying to conduct. People work with similar handicaps in genetics all the time. That doesn't mean that they don't, or can't, make any progress.


Comment Re:First Step = ID the smarter people (Score 1) 251

Well, or I grew up in India and walked daily through poverty that most Americans never see or experience in my blind privilege. But it's really hard to tell exactly what life experiences a total stranger has had, isn't it? Look, clearly you think that the top article's search technique is less than ideal, and as I said I might even agree with you, although I have absolutely no idea how one would conduct the "broad survey" you suggest and look for outliers, given the general unreliability of things like IQ tests and the dependence of their results on cultural background and education (see e.g. the Flynn effect). You also have to factor in Bayes' theorem. Just what do you think the prevalence of mathematical genius in the general population is? How would you test for it? What is the false positive/false negative rate of your test?

There could be a Ramanujan living in the Amazonian rainforest today, but the only manifestation of their genius might be their enormous insight into the ways of an environment that would kill either of us overnight plus their skill as a tribal shaman. Or they might be tribal outcasts or dead -- there is some evidence that genius comes at the expense of repurposing cortex devoted to social or other brain function. How would you identify such a person in your survey not just as potentially mathematically competent, but as a mathematical genius? I think you are just plain mistaken when you assert that their selection mechanism is fundamentally incorrect -- at the very least it pulls from a group that is highly filtered by many things, one of which is, without question, intelligence and mathematical ability compared to most (but sure, probably not all) of the general population.

We might also agree that what they are planning to look at with regard to their genetics is narrow and stupid IF that is really ALL they are planning to look at (which I doubt). They really need to run a huge battery of tests on the individuals in their group and in various control groups and in first and second degree relatives of the in-group and more, both genetic and the other kind. I suspect that they will simply replicate the findings of many others who have already conducted similar studies, that intelligence and accomplishment (as outliers) have a tendency to regress back to the mean (within Flynn effect amplification that might be associated with "privilege") between generations.

But none of this is a particularly good reason to make the whole thing into some sort of quasi-racist nazi class war (on their part). Yes, their sample is in some sense at least partially self-selected and hence subject to all sorts of biases. OTOH, the group they are looking for is one that is going to be very difficult to identify any other way, and the educational system of the world has never been MORE egalitarian and blind to privilege than it is today, and the world has never been more affluent than it is today both. That isn't to say that we are even particularly close to a long term goal of complete social and economic equality (of opportunity if nothing else, since so far we cannot do anything about the distribution of abilities and yes, I have a brother with Down's syndrome so don't tell me everybody is a genius if only the proletariat would rise up against their capitalist oppressors) but at this point the pool of the most talented tenured faculty in math and physics worldwide has plenty of members who were not "born to privilege".

I'm sure that there are few there who probably DID only get there because of intelligent and wealthy parents as I've met them (although even they aren't stupid or they wouldn't make the cut into Princeton or MIT or for that matter Duke). And I'm certain that our educational system fails to attract some of the brightest into academia because they'd rather make money or because they attend a really shitty school and never have a chance to succeed (although as I said, real genius has been known to transcend THAT barrier time and again). And even though now we pull students and faculty from all over the world, especially from China and India, there are still parts of the world that are strongly underepresented, and sure, it is quite likely due to poverty and lack of opportunity and the fact that 1/3 of the world is still living in the 17th century socially, politically, economically, religiously. That still doesn't mean that the pool of talented tenured faculty is the moral equivalent of a gold miner's pan with most of the dross washed out. The thing they are looking for, however one defines it, is a lot more likely to be found in this sample than anywhere else. There will be a few rocks mixed in, perhaps some fool's gold, perhaps the pan didn't pull dirt from around the mother lode, but it is a lot more efficient to study this group than to wander down the stream bed picking up 7 billion pebbles one at a time and looking to see if it is gold.

I "do" statistics at the professional level and I share your concerns about the design of the study and various sources of bias and confounding effects, and I will note even further that things are far worse than you suggest because they do not appear to have a double blind control group per se so that the entire process is an open invitation to confirmation bias or amplification of statistical accidents into "significant" correlations. One possible outcome of the study is that they don't find any common genetic factor(s) that can be identified as "mathematical genius" that haven't already long since been identified and that aren't as likely as not projections of social inequity as you suggest. Another possible outcome is that they do find something (correlation) but falsely identify it as causal because of the small size of the study, a lack of understanding of mechanism, and the lack of random selection methods including double blind and pulling from a broad pool instead of a small biased one. We might both be able to design a better way of looking for the same thing. But all of those ways would be a lot more expensive, and I think you are way too focused on "privilege" as being the prime determinant for inclusion into the study group and hence the primary confounding factor in the study. Surely they could control for that a variety of ways, just as they may well have plans for a control group and may well expect to use random numbers in various places to confound confirmation bias. Or they may not -- maybe this whole thing IS a racist, classist, genetic determinist conspiracy.

If so, I doubt they will convince many people with their final product, whatever it is. But when you are looking for genetic factors for rare diseases, you don't screen the general population. If you understand Bayes theorem, you even understand why. You go to a small subgroup of the population where the disease has already manifested itself (and ideally, to several generations of first and second degree relatives and to a control population) and look there. This is SOP for genetic studies of rare conditions, and it is as it is for good reasons. It works even if the disease in question isn't genetic per se at all, but the result of a privileged class using lead pipes for their water supply or having the unsavory habit of marrying brother and sister together in the royal class. I fail to see the validity of your primary complaint if one substitutes the term "mathematical genius disease" for e.g. "Crohn's disease" or any other. Sure, a stupidly done study could easily fail, but the method isn't a priori stupid because they don't screen the general population for either one but rather focus on the group of individuals where the condition (for whatever reason) has already manifested itself, and then one merely has to hope that the people who do the work aren't idiots because you can't fix stupid and you can't fix (or sometimes, easily identify) badly done science. At least until somebody comes along and tries to replicate their results or use them as predictors to see if they succeed or fail.


Comment Re:First Step = ID the smarter people (Score 1) 251

We're not talking about "basic numeracy" here, though. We're talking about being mathematically gifted. I'll cheerfully agree that there is a huge range of math abilities that are related to or proportional to quality of education, but talent in math is not, or at least, while one might well lose some gifted persons from extremely poor backgrounds, the pool of college educated persons is broad enough, and the opportunities for support for gifted students great enough, that there is more than adequate sample of gifted individuals among those that attended a University, majored in mathematics, and displayed the real gift to an extent that made graduate continuation and an academic career likely regardless of the student's original socioeconomic group.

Again, I'm not even talking about students that make it through a math or physics graduate program with a Ph.D., as that merely indicates "competence", not necessarily brilliance. I'm saying that within this competent group there are individuals that are brilliant, and honestly, I don't think there is that much bias preventing the brilliant from rising to the top once they get into college in the first place. That's the real barrier, that and the possibly terrible education they received up to that point. But mathematical brilliance is surprisingly proof against even a poor education, as math geniuses aren't taught to be geniuses, they just are. That's the way their brains work.

In some sense I envy them. I'm merely competent, or perhaps competent-plus, not brilliant, so while I (for fun) sometimes toy with some of the famous math puzzles or unproven (but probably true) theorems I'm pretty unlikely to solve them by insight or by slogging hard work either one. A Ramanujan would just look at many of these puzzles and see the answer all at once without any "work" or "slogging" at all.

Of course in some cases those math geniuses seem to obtain their brilliance in part by repurposing cortex used for other, e.g. social purposes, so you have Godel starving to death because he simply forgot to eat, but the thought of being such a bright spark in the dark night is tempting even at such a cost. I suspect that this is the "kind" of thing that they are trying to study in the top article, and while I personally think studying dynamic brain function with e.g. fMRI and a host of other tools would be more generally productive than looking for genetic correlates, I applaud the idea of trying to figure it out. Mankind's post-Enlightenment history of knowledge and discovery has been one of slow, slogging progress in the hands of the competent to competent plus punctuated by revolutionary, paradigm shifting discoveries by those very brilliant lights, who often seem to accomplish what they do directly, intuitively and effortlessly (compared to the slogging).

Understanding brain function and capacity (both genetic and developmental), insight, and above all, how to TRAIN both our own brains and the brains of those that we educate how to increase the probability of insight, optimize their own intelligence (given their genetics), and alter the probability of revolutionary discovery for the better seems like a worthwhile target for anyone concerned with the improvement of the world.


Comment Re:First Step = ID the smarter people (Score 1) 251

Disclaimer: I'm a theoretical physicist. You mean like Ramanujan? Or Riemann? Or any of the zillion other exceptions?

Not that I don't agree with the rest of your comment, BTW, only the "predominantly arise in highly privileged segments of society" bit. I actually rather think that there are significant genetic difference between at least some kinds of mathematical prodigies and "normal humans", or at least, there are significant differences in their brains. I don't know how "highly privileged" I am outside of getting a good education that permitted me to take advantage of my intelligence, but I do know that I'm no Ramanujan, I'm not a "lightning calculator", but I've taught and advised a good number of very bright students from all economic classes over the decades and there are some that are simply scary intelligent in math independent of their privilege or opportunity level. I'm not certain precisely how one would do the "broad survey" you suggest -- the people who have the true gift(s) that I think they are looking for will either (like Ramanujan) be so exceptional that they float to the top out of whatever social strata they start in or they will be more or less undetectable. At least, surveying from the select pool of people who have e.g. discovered famous theorems or otherwise made breakthrough discoveries makes it a lot simpler to find "outliers in the data" by concentrating on groups that are almost all outliers in the data.

Having rich, white parents might get you into a top-ranked school, but (almost) nobody becomes a famous mathematician or physicist because their parents were wealthy. Parental money doesn't equate to ability to work with complex algebras, solve differential systems, derive important abstract results in number theory, or even understand differential geometry well enough to work with it coherently. Otherwise physics graduate schools would be filled with the scions of rich white people instead of people of all races and colors (including a huge number of Chinese and Indian persons that have no possible claim to either). I dunno, maybe you can buy a math Ph.D. But I doubt it.


Comment Re:Why luxury safer electric cars should be free (Score 1) 389

Thanks for the great reply. PRT ideas are really cool (good fictional example is in Logan's Run). Wish I had more time to provide a more detailed reply. But essentially, I think some of these issues are points of uncertainty.

How much would electric cars costs go down with mass production and a build-out of recharging infrastructure? How much safer would the cars be with just a bit more research and testing if there was a trillion dollar initiative (on the order of the Interstate Highway initiative of the 1950s)? How soon would be have fusion energy to power these cars with another trillion dollar initiative (a slashdot article a while back said we were US$80 billion away)? If we can spend trillions on Iraq (including future obligations like to care for injured soldiers), and trillions for wall street bailouts, and trillions for "quantiative easing" as mostly a gift to the banks, shouldn't be able to put a couple trillion into upgrading the US transportation system which is still at the core of US commerce and defense? How many varieties of vehicles do people really want? How much of the US military is ostensibly justified to protect supplies of oil? How much of the current US military posture is obsolete or ironic (i.e. expensive aircraft carriers perhaps being sitting ducks for either submarines or missiles, tanks being vulnerable to cheap drones, 3D-printed military robotics used to fight over economic ideas like capitalism that are falling apart due to 3D printer and advanced robotics eliminating the value of most human labor, etc.)? Could a trillion dollars invested in battery research lead to major breakthroughs? Would human behavior change some with a greater sense of abundance? Probably no one knows all these answers for sure, so fertile ground for lots of discussion.

BTW, I'd be willing to spend more on "defense" as long as it was well spent; I feel the current US defense spending is ineffective ("planning to refight the last war" etc.); to my mind, making the US transportation system safer, more resilient, and more self-reliant is an example of improving the intrinsic security of the USA (including saving 30,000 lives and perhaps 10X that serious injuries per year). And that's just the USA:
"The ongoing Pulitzer project highlights sobering facts: Roads kill 1.24 million people each year, and by 2030, that annual number is expected to jump to 3.6 million."

The original justification for the Interstate Highway system was "defense" (including to land airplanes):
"The Interstate Highway System gained a champion in President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was influenced by his experiences as a young Army officer crossing the country in the 1919 Army Convoy on the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America. Eisenhower gained an appreciation of the Reichsautobahn system, the first "national" implementation of modern Germany's Autobahn network as a necessary component of a national defense system while he was serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II.[9] He recognized that the proposed system would also provide key ground transport routes for military supplies and troop deployments in case of an emergency or foreign invasion."

So, how about a "war on traffic fatalities"? :-)

Comment Re:Flame spray has been around since 1910... (Score 1) 74

Yeah, it is amazing what is possible technologically compared to politically/socially. I wrote a related essay here:
"Getting to 100 social-technical points"
"One can think of it this simplified way. Imagine abundance for all takes a society earning 100 "social-technical" points. :-) These points come from the multiplication of the "social" points times the "technical" points.
So, 50 * 2 = 100.
Or, 2 * 50 = 100.
or, 10 * 10 = 100.
    Social points might be things like learning to share better, or learning to get along with each other better in resolving conflicts with less damage, or in general, even eventually a global mindshift:
      "Global Mindshift: The Wombat"
Technical points are like the ones we are usually talking about here, how to make things efficiently and effectively.
    Let us consider three scenarios for these points, with the numbers as above. ..."

These levels can probably go up and down. So, the USA is maybe a 3 out of 100 socially (for emphasizing selfishness over community and short-term over long-term) but maybe an 10 out of 100 technologically/infrastructurally? So, 3 * 10 = 30, or about a third of the way to abundance for all? Fusion power might increase that technology level to 20? A 1960s/1970s-like social renaissance might bring the social level back up to 10? Put both of those together, and we easily could provide abundance for all (like Bucky Fuller wrote about being possible decades ago). Add nanotech-based 3D printers to fusion to bring the US tech level up to, say, 30, and even with social problems keeping the US at 3, at 3 * 30 = 90 we would be close to providing abundance for all. Still might not be there because at a social level of 3, ideas like "artificial scarcity" (such as copyright, patents, DRM, etc.) still seem like productive helpful ideas as opposed to immoral harmful ones. Or, if the USA got up to 10 socially, with say a "basic income" for all, then our current technology might be enough for abundance for all. Yet, having said that, "the future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed" (William Gibson), so one can see more advanced communities socially here and there (including on the internet here and there) and some technology ideas have not yet become widespread but may soon. Inside a social bubble like, say, the Google Corporation, there is abundance for all already.

Metal is cool, but wood is pretty amazing in its own way. It is in a sense self-replicating, And to work with it artistically you need to think about grain and species and dryness and so on. Some woodworkers look for special branches shapes in the forest that they convert to things like chairs, tables, or special sculptures.

I've heard of education at some universities like MIT being called "drinking from a firehose". There is always so much to learn. The Buddhist path, in the sense of prioritization and simplification to some meaningful end may be a good strategy for having fun. Even just one Minecraft-like simulated world could be made effectively infinite, if you are looking for endless new vistas -- although in another sense, much of it is probably just more of the same.

Comment Re:Ask Doctors ... (Score 5, Interesting) 786

You should talk to Doctors. They seem to have a quite different opinion of Medicare

You should also look at world-wide comparisons. Medicare and other public healthcare programs in the US account for more dollars per capita spent than all or almost all universal health-care systems in other countries, and deliver lousy results comparatively.

Canada--with our nominally single-tier, public, single-payer health care system--has longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, and better outcomes by any number of other measures. Critics (sometimes justly) focus on input measures like wait-times, but at the end of the day what matters is that we are getting health care and getting good outcomes. We aren't even the best in the world--just middling-decent as these things go.

So the real question is not "why can't government launch a website" but "why can't the US Federal government, alone amongst all governments in all developed nations, provide a reasonable level of basic, universal health care at costs comparable to those in every other developed nation on Earth?"

This isn't a "government" problem. It is a uniquely American problem, and the solution does not lie in any general ideological fix, but in the detailed structure of the specifically American, particularly broken, Federal government.

Comment Re:So what should the family do? (Score 1) 263

And one can build a desktop-scale Tesla coil and get at least 100-250 keV electrons (that I have done at home:-) and over 0.5c, and larger ones can reach 500+ keV and 0.9 c. But a betatron is probably a better use of your magnet wire if you want to hit the MeV range and start to add 9's.

One actually needs to be careful with Tesla coils (as with CRTs) not to generate hard x-rays by accident, for example by allowing electrons to outflow through a vacuum until they strike glass or some other confining solid. CRT television tubes contained a lot of lead precisely to guard against that, making their disposal problematic as toxic waste although the lead is pretty well bound up in class and leaded crystal has the same issues.

What would be really cool would be to be able to build a 100 MeV electron accelerator on a desktop and then have a way of inverting the electrons directly into muons at high efficiency, then using the muons to catalyze fusion events. Sadly, I don't think we know any way of creating a "virtual neutrino" the way the free electron laser generates a virtual photon in the wiggler in the rest frame of the electrons passing through to get high gain forward scattering conversion. AFAIK, the only significantly populated pathways to muons involve e.g. pions as an intermediate step and this drops the efficiency to less than 10% in the channel, but if one could come up with a direct channel to muons at a much higher conversion rate, muon catalyzed fusion could still end up being viable as an energy source.

Perhaps if we ever get a better handle on just what neutrinos ARE...


Comment Re:So what should the family do? (Score 1) 263

Oh, please. Old technology, and not even the right technology. If you want desktop MeV electrons, use a betatron:


We're talking 1930's and 1940's here, a self-confining inductive transformer, and a 5 MeV electron has \gamma \approx 10 and travelling at roughly 0.995c. It doesn't make a good beam source though both because it is pulsed and because the electrons have to make it out through a rapidly varying fringe field.

I'm guessing that there are a half-dozen ways of producing MeV scale electrons at the desktop, although most of them aren't going to be "useful" sources in that they produce anything like a coherent beam. Hmmm, Google suggests that there are a half dozen ways and some of them ARE useful at the desktop scale and indeed are in use at e.g. CERN as devices for injecting electron beams into accelerators for testing purposes. I'd guess that an ordinary electric arc produces "some" MeV scale electrons just from the tail of the MB distribution -- small tail, sure, but there are a lot of electrons and an arc can be quite hot.

Still, building a homemade cyclotron -- wow, I wish I could have done that when I was a kid. I built a bunch of stuff, but never thought of building that.


Comment Re:No matter = no radiation (Score 2) 263

Hawking radiation is produced when vacuum fluctuations near the event horizon produce a particle pair, one of the two fall in, and the other escapes. In order to make the process make mass-energy sense, the particle that falls in is more probably the antiparticle of the pair so that the BH supposedly emits normal matter and decays. For tiny/microscopic black holes this process is supposedly extremely rapid so that they "evaporate". For "large" BHs, it takes so long that one can nearly ignore the process compared to e.g. the influx of ordinary matter.

However, Hawking has been shown to be wrong in a lot of his original work on this theory -- or rather, the theory has been shown to be inconsistent with Quantum Mechanics -- and the real entropy increases associated with this sort of process or the process of ordinary infalling matter have been shown not to exist. Leonard Susskind's book The Black Hole Wars: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics walks you through all of this at the accessible-to-normal-humans level (as opposed to the level of QFT/String theory, which he also does elsewhere).

All pretty heady stuff, of course. Theorists can really go to town when the nearest known potential physical realization of an idea is order of 10^22 meters distant and only visible at all from synchrotron radiation from infalling charged particles emitted some distance away from the supposed event horizon. But I do agree that a TOE needs to be conservative of quantum information at least until we reproducibly and believably observe a direct violation of this principle somewhere.


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