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Comment Re:Sure (Score 1) 517

For me, and many other like me, it boils down to this: How accurate is the science on climate change?

If it was accurate then there would have been a consensus predicting these events. Instead what we see is many groups throwing out different predictions, and when everyone is guessing something different there is inevitably some who are right and some who are wrong. However, the fact that there is no consensus means that there isn't accuracy in the field of Climate Change and the fact that the most public predictions have been so diametrically opposite to the results demonstrates a lack of precision.

You have to be more precise. What predictions are you talking about?

No field of science can or should tolerate inaccuracy and imprecision. Until scientists can agree on models that correctly and reliably predict the effects of carbon on climate, the field of climate change study acts more like a religion in that it asks us for faith instead of facts.

This is just silly. Accuracy and precision are two entirely different things, and *every* scientific discipline tolerates imprecision.

This would require models that make precise predictions that are reliably accurate.

Give an example of a precise *climate* prediction, so we know what you're talking about.

Even the ones that do predict well are not consistent, and quite often contain constants that are not understood and certainly weren't predicted.

Your definition of science rules out physics, which is full of arbitrary constants. For example you may remember the equation for gravitational force from high school physics: F = G *m1*m2 / r^2, where G, the universal gravitational constant, is chosen experimentally to make the equation work. It rules out chemistry and materials science because we measure the physical properties of compounds rather than predict them. It rules out electromagnetism because of the empirical factors ( e.g. 8.854187817 x 10^12 farads/m) needed to make Maxwell's equations work.

Comment Re:Science doesn't work on consensus (Score 1) 517

Einstein is not talking about scientific consensus; in fact the scientific consensus supported him in the situation you cite. The book he was reacting to was written by non-scientists, buttressed by one or two outlier scientists who happened to disagree with the bulk of their colleagues. This sort of thing remains very common today among climate change denialists, "creation science" proponents, and anti-vaccine activists.

To dismiss a claim because it is inconsistent with scientific consensus is not to say that claim is wrong -- it's just another way of saying extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Citing scientific consensus is about establishing a reasonable (and ultimately fair) burden of proof.

Comment Re:Weather is Not Climate? (Score 2) 517

I've *NEVER* heard a scientist claim that Katrina or Sandy were "caused" by climate change. What they say is that such events are more common in a warmer globe. The same applies to the "polar vortex" event last week; its a kind of event predicted to be more common by climate models.

You do know that the cold streak was actually composed of anomalously warm air? The key is that "anomalously warm" for the arctic winter can still be very, very cold by continental US standards. As the arctic air masses moved south in places, other air masses moved north, causing simultaneous record high temperatures in Greenland, parts of Canada and Alaska. The line between the cold north and warm south got wavy.

Comment Re:Test scores (Score 2) 715

I can still recite the multiplication tables up to 12 with no real thought.

That might not have been a waste of time for you, but it was for me. Memorize such nonsense on your own time.

I disagree. I can do lots of useful math without a calculator. My kids, who were not forced to memorize such nonsense, can't. You might argue that calculators are ubiquitous, and you'd be right, but the related area in which they fail is not having any idea when answers are wildly wrong. They simply type and trust.

Comment Re:Yeah, like the present school system is working (Score 1) 715

Geez, our present system is an utter failure in most of the US... would posit that pretty much anything is worth trying....

Why try "pretty much anything" instead of looking at places in the US which have been the most successful? I live in a state which perennially ranks first in the US in reading, math and science knowledge -- *all three*, at all grade levels, although occasionally another state manages a statistical tie in one of the categories. We started ed reform in 1993, almost a decade ahead of the rest of the country. Our ed reform law included charter schools.

Charter schools account for about 2% of enrollment in our state, so they aren't responsible for our overall success. On the other hand charter schools do slightly better than traditional schools on standardized tests; if you account for the higher motivation of charter school parents,it's fair to say that charter schools are comparable (although more diverse in approach) to traditional schools here, and both tend to be extremely successful by US standards.

Charter schools are heavily regulated here. They're not allowed to manufacture success by cherry picking students and pushing expensive, harder to educate (e.g. special needs) students on the local traditional school. On top of that, a charter here often has to compete with a local school district that would be considered quite strong elsewhere in the US. Put that all together, and it's hard to make a quick buck in charter schools here. While we do allow for-profit charters, they're only a small fraction of the charter schools here, as opposed to the 1/3 nationwide. I don't think it's an accident that we have evidence for charter school success here while clear evidence is lacking in the rest of the country. Our system discourages bottom-feeders from entering the charter school market.

I'd say our experience shows that charter schools can be part of successful ed reform, but they aren't a substitute for reforming traditional public schools. In fact, I'd say if you want strong charter schools, the best thing you could do is make them compete with strong traditional schools. There's nothing wrong with for-profit charter schools either, but it'd be a bad idea to let companies which run chains of for-profit charter schools design your charter school program. It's also a bad idea to let a traditional school district die because you have a for-profit alternative. That alternative won't be guaranteed to be any better than is needed to compete.

We don't have to be doom and gloom about our ability to educate our kids, or push some kind of quick-fix panic button. We can study the problem and improve our traditional public schools. If we do that, charter schools can by a valuable part of the solution. But if you bring in charter schools as an *alternative* to reforming troubled traditional public schools, you'll get mediocre charter schools and failed school districts.

The schools in my state, on average, are turning out world-class students. The schools in your state can, too.

Comment Re:Not quite (Score 1) 458

Well, what if we distinguish theories that have *no* untestable predictions from theories that have *some* untestable predictions?

Suppose some theory explains the universe better than any other we've attempted, and which over time has resisted numerous skillful attempts at disproving. So far as we can tell, all of the theory's testable predictions hold. Now suppose that theory ALSO makes predictions that can't be empirically verified. This situation, if it occurred, would blur the lines between verifiable and non-verifiable predictions. We can't *observe* the thing predicted, but other evidence confirming the theory could be construed as confirming its otherwise unverifiable implications.

That said, I think this hypothetical scenario certainly outstrips the current situation with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, although if we ever develop a theory of everything we might be confronted with a situation like that.

Comment "...without their approval or consent." (Score 1) 599

Commerce should use the standard used by scientific experimentation: not just consent, but informed consent.

The Wikipedia article states the difference between the kind of "consent" used by unregulated businesses and the type used by health care and scientific researchers nicely:

An informed consent can be said to have been given based upon a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences of an action.

Comment Re:Utilitarianism is correct (Score 2) 146

Right. So you're a billionaire and I work for you. My embezzling a hundred thousand dollars from you to send my kid through school is moral because you won't really miss it and it does a great deal of good for my kid and no discernible harm to you. That's the *pure* utilitarian way of looking at it, although such purity in outlook is something at least very rare and very probably non-existent.

There's another way of looking at this problem that seems built into human beings which philosophers call deontological ethics -- the ethics of rights and responsibilities. I have no right to your money, furthermore in agreeing to work for you I have a responsibility to discharge my duties faithfully. Yet while most people would agree that embezzling money from you would be wrong, that doesn't mean they're pure rights-based thinkers. If we simply change what is stolen their thinking is apt to shift.

Suppose instead of money, I steal a loaf of stale bread from you to feed my starving child. Normally that bread would go to feed a pig. Framed this way, I think a lot of people would consider it immoral for me NOT to steal from you, to let bread that could save a starving child go to a pig.

I should mention there's another important and overlooked style of ethical reasoning: aretaic, or "virtue" ethics. Somethings we do because we want to be the kind of person who does such things, and some things we don't do because of what that would do to our character.

In practice everyone seems to mix these different styles. Those who claim to use only one system of ethics to guide their behavior inevitably do little tricks to import other outlooks into their "pure and simple" philosophical framework. Utilitarians for example may conceptualize a rights violation as a harm, thus allowing them to argue in deontological mode when it suits them. Self-described deontological thinkers are apt to invent responsibilities that allow them to argue in utilitarian mode or aretaic mode when it suits them.

I can't say I've ever met anyone who has managed to put all of of their morality a set of geometry-like postulates and who reasons morally exclusively from those postulates. I've met plenty who've deluded themselves into thinking they do exactly that, but somehow the claimed mathematical proof is never forthcoming. If you press people, they inevitably argue from rules of thumb, by paradigms, by analogies, and other convenient but not necessarily consistent means of getting to a workable answer. They never resort to pure reasoning from a simple set of moral postulates such as utilitarianism.

And I suspect that's the best we'll ever manage at justifying all the things we feel in our gut. If nature declines to provide us with any system of arithmetic that is both complete and consistent, why should we expect her provide us with morality that is so? There may be some dilemmas that can't ever be solved, either because our postulates lead to contradictory answers, or they don't lead to any answer at all.

Comment Re:There is so much money (Score 1) 146

I don't think there's any correlation between talent and success whatever. Wikipedia quotes Stephen King as saying that James Patterson "is a terrible writer, but very successful."

I think you are confusing *craft* with *talent*. Craft, talent and taste are all distinct things. So a talented author can write a sloppy and vulgar book. Likewise an author of little talent can write a tasteful and and technically admirable book. I see this in my writer's group all the time, diligently crafted and thoughtful manuscripts that nobody but their author will ever love. The world of unpublished manuscripts is full of irredeemable garbage, but there are plenty of ambitious, clever, and disciplined writers out there who unfortunately have very little talent. You read their manuscripts and while you see much to be admired, but the most they achieve in overall impression is "not bad".

Craft is important to make the most of whatever talent you have, but I think in the end talent is indispensable but craft, unfortunately, is not.

The idea that you can manufacture a hit out of complete swill is a myth rooted in the cognitive bias called the halo effect. When you like something, you tend not to find *any* faults whatsoever. When you hate something, it's hard not to find any virtues. There's no doubt that marketing can be a key ingredient in a hit, but it's not true you can manufacture success with total swill.

For example, the first "manufactured" hit band was 60s TV show group THE MONKEES. The songs were written by highly successful songwriters like Neil Diamond and Carole King and performed by accomplished pro studio musicians. The TV producers spared no effort in hiring top drawer pop music talent, it just wasn't in the people whose faces were on the album. To achieve success, you don't have to get everything right, you have to get some things right enough that the halo effect covers your shortcomings.

As for books, the same applies. There are a lot of successful books by lousy writers, but not any I can think of that were written by untalented writers. Take Dan Browne or Stephanie Meyer. These are both dreadful writers from a technical standpoint, but if you read their work with a non-judgmental stance you'll see they aren't untalented writers -- Meyer especially. Browne is something of a one trick pony, but there are actually several stretches of very good writing in TWILIGHT. And Meyer sets up her story to be appealing *to her audience* with uncanny instinct, which is surely a talent. The main fault of TWILIGHT is dreadful, meandering, pointless dialog. This actually works for her in her target audience, but makes the novel unbearable for anyone else.

Speaking of one trick ponies, that describes Tom Clancy's work, although it was a good trick that could be revived with each new generation of weaponry and every historical twist of the geopolitical kaleidoscope. His characterization and dialog were laughably bad, although he had an unholy knack for military jargon. He was very good at scenarios though. In that he's very much of a piece with Stephanie Meyer as a writer. You just don't notice his faults if you're in his target audience, any more than Meyer's audience notices her writing faults.

Comment Re:can it explain... (Score 2) 146

I read Snyder's book because he was a friend of a friend. First off, it's not about *everything*. It's about movie scripts. Secondly it's a bit naive to blame the lack of creativity of modern movies on his book; that's a trend that predates 2005.

In any case screenwriters are nothing like the olympian figures playwrights are in theater. The main creative force in a movie is the director, and writers are relatively minor figures in the enterprise. In the theater the script is gospel. In the movies a director routinely adds to, deletes from or reorganizes a script as he sees fit. It's important to realize that screenwriters structure screenplays, but directors structure the movies. A screenplay isn't the movie story; it's a guideline that helps the director imagine the story HE will tell. Thus things like the page count for each story beat *are for the benefit of the director*, and don't have much if any relationship to the pace of the story as seen by the moviegoers.

What Snyder did for screenwriting was analogous to what agile programming advocates did for programming. He codified the practices from successful projects. What the linked article does is at best intellectually sloppy or at worst, disingenuous. Mr Suderman applies the 15 beat structure to recent movies, but fails to note that the same can be done for nearly every commercially successful movie in the last 80 years.

As for 50 SHADES, it's possible the formula *might* explain why it is more successful than other readily available erotica. And marketing helps too, but remember this was initially a self-published book that took off by word of mouth.

Ultimately, when you become a discerning reader, you realize that practically every novel is flawed in some way or another. And while all things being equal a better written novel is more likely to be successful, all things are most definitely NOT equal. You cannot craft your way to success with readers, you have to speak to something in them. It's more important that a story does something right, than it does everything, or even most things right.

Comment Re:Uncertainty (Score 1) 265

So it could easily be only 1 asteroid worth mining. Let the asteroid war begin!

Correction: it would be remarkable if even one asteroid were worth mining *with presently available technology*, especially if you factor in the cost of prospecting.

One universal feature of science fiction mining scenarios is thrust that is "too cheap to meter". In space opera, nobody ever worries about the cost of lifting a load of goods from the planet surface to escape velocity, or about the practicality of tankering fuel for a constant acceleration trip from the inner to the outer solar system and back. Actually Doc Smith is by far the most scientifically sophisticated author in dealing with these problems. His ships feature both inertialess drive (taking payload mass out of the economic picture) and reactionless drive (taking fuel mass out of the picture) -- which makes things like asteroid prospecting quite economically plausible.

You can see the result of these assumptions in the classic "asteroid miner's boat". It's never a delicate aerospace tracery of gossamer carbon fiber spars and unobtainium pressure spheres. It's always a stubby, thick walled steel tub, the better to nudge its way through improbably densely populated asteroid fields. Saving mass was clearly not on the designer's punch list.

If there were as many as 10 economically viable asteroid mining targets with close-to-present day technology, then a massive research program into marginally more efficient spacecraft propulsion (e.g. VASIMR) and reducing the cost of moving stuff to and from orbit would almost certainly increase that number dramatically. If you could have any certainty that there were even a handful of such asteroids, then dramatically increased propulsion research would be an economic no-brainer.

Comment Re:Profit (Score 1) 265

Let's suppose you own a giant asteroid with enough native platimum that if it were put on the commodities market would make platinum cheap as pig iron. That's not a problem for you. You simply put as much Pt on the market as maximizes your profit. You can judiciously expand the total market for platinum by creating heretofore impractical applications too. And it is the spectrum of applications for a material that ultimately make cornering the market for that material worthwhile.

Consider lead and osmium. Osmium trades at something around $380/troy ounce, or roughly $12/gram. A metric ton of lead costs around $2000, which is to say $0.002/gram. So that $12 that buys you a gram of osmium will by you about 6 kilograms of lead. So obviously osmium is far valuable than lead. But is the osmium market more valuable than the lead market? I don't think so, because we trade in much greater volumes of lead. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the total value of iron mined in the world is greater than the total value of platinum, even though platinum is much more valuable by weight.

The fact that lead is abundant leads to the development of applications for it, which creates greater demand. It's so cheap we make fishing sinkers out of the stuff -- or did, before we got worried about its toxicity. If lead were as hard to find as osmium on the Earth, it would trade at much less than $12/gram because it would be little more than a toxic lab curiosity.

Conversely, were osmium as readily available as lead, it's commodity price would undoubtedly be lower than it is now, but the value of the *market* would be much greater. It might even be greater than the value of the lead market. For one thing, we could be making our fishing sinkers out of osmium.

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