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Comment Re:Whats the problem (Score 1) 404

There is a positive correlation between IQ and success in life, and successful men are more desirable to women. So the most attractive women will most likely select partners who are successful and hence somewhat smarter than average. And thus they will tend to have daughters who are prettier and smarter than average. It seems like the dynamics of human match-making would support the hypothesis that genes for smarts and beauty would tend to correlate positively.

Though I don't think that that has anything to do with the very real rarity of beautiful women scientists. I think the key factor is what economists refer to as opportunity cost. Quite simply, science is hard. Satisfying perhaps, but hard. If there are easier ways to get success and satisfaction in life, most people will take those alternative routes. Being a beautiful woman opens a great many doors in life. She could marry her pick of successful men. She would be a huge asset to any sales, service, or public relations team. Her odds of landing any given position in just about any field are much higher than those of someone who is not a beautiful woman.

This opportunity differential runs deep. Consider the time one needs to spend studying to be a successful scientist. Most people must feel some temptation to go out and have fun and neglect their studies occasionally (even though achieving the highest levels in scientific research mean forgoing a lot of these sorts of things). But the typical nerdy dude doesn't have that many friends, there aren't attractive people regularly coming by and trying to take him fun places and have sex with him, if he goes to a party he probably feels like a nerd and stands around in the corner talking to the other nerdy dudes. A beautiful woman on the other hand is immediately befriended by everyone who isn't too intimidated by her, she's welcome at all the parties and has people inviting her to do cool fun things all the time, and when she does go out she's the center of attention and has to beat away the people trying to be nice to her with a stick.

Even if she has just as much aptitude and inclination toward science as the nerdy dude, the beautiful woman would need to be an order of magnitude more dedicated to make it through the years of diligent effort needed to become a top notch scientist, due to all of the wonderful, fun, cool experiences she would have to forgo, experiences that were never even an option for the nerdy dude (or the homely girl).

Comment Calm Down (Score 2) 410

You're not making a logical argument. There has to be some legitimate scope for law enforcement. Saying that a distinction is specious does not make it so. Laws say that criminals can be locked up. If we assume that the distinction between ordinary citizens and criminals is specious then this seems like a scary thing. But the U.S. legal system actually works very hard to make that distinction as clear as possible. Obviously there are a lot of criminals running free and many innocent people who are falsely convicted, but that does not indicate that the entire effort to enforce laws is ill-conceived. Most of us would accept that, while it's not easy to distinguish between ordinary citizens and terrorists, a non-specious distinction exists.

Yes America has enemies. Bin Laden repeatedly called for the destruction of America and instructed his associates to kill as many Americans as possible. That seems like pretty much the definition of enemy. Yes, security agencies amass secret information, but how else can efforts to stop terrorists be conducted. If one of Bin Laden's minions contacts the CIA to warn them about a terrorist attack, is it not the CIA's obligation to keep the informant's identity secret? All large organization have moles and weak points, the identity of intelligence assets and information about the nature of other collection sources are the key resource in intelligence. Information has to be cordoned off. Intelligence is all about secrets. Given the nature of the game, I think that our oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies is pretty good.

Of course there's potential for abuse. Look at N. Korea, or China, or Iran, or Russia. In those places people have no real rights or freedom. The history of the formation of U.S. intelligence agencies though is largely reactive. That is, our capabilities have primarily grown up to defend against incoming threats. We do have accountability, oversight, and, in the long run, transparency. In the countries mentioned above there is not even a pretense of such controls. One of the main reasons our intelligence agencies are so invested in information gathering is that they actually do need to justify themselves and, in cases of domestic action, obtain warrants and present evidence in court. In countries where you can pick people up and interrogate them on vague suspicions, gathering information is less of a problem.

I would say that the more people actually understand about how intelligence functions, the less fearful they are about vague conspiracies. Go read books by ex-personnel. Read about historical actions where the secret documents are now public. Read about operations that have come to light due to public inquiries. Phobias of snakes are most common among people who live in areas where there are no snakes. The more you understand something, the less likely you are to form irrational fears about it. I'm saying ground your opinions in real info instead of YouTube conspiracy videos and Hollywood thrillers (CIA+War on Drugs+FBI= ???).

We should assume that, if given the opportunity, people with power will probably abuse it. But we should use that assumption as a basis for rationally designing institutions that minimize such opportunities. The worst regimes on Earth actually emerge from conspiracism. They believe that there are dark malignant forces conspiring to destroy them and then justify doing horrible things in self defense and thus themselves become the monsters they feared. The Germans who committed the holocaust genuinely believed that there was a Jewish conspiracy that was destroying Germany. In this sense the thing to fear is fear itself.

Comment Almost right. (Score 2) 422

There's a lot of truth in what you say. The bottom 50% of households don't earn much so not a lot of taxes to be collected there. True. The bottom 20% are mostly college students, retirees, disabled people, etc. (though not "children", because households rarely consist of just children). True. If you have a full-time job you are not in the bottom 20%. There is really no good argument that the federal government should be collecting more revenue from households in the bottom two income quinitles.

"Yeah, ask Greece how they feel about the international bankers dictating their national policy. If they were really smart, they'd say "Screw this" and cut themselves off from the foreign system."

Here you're definitely confused. Austerity means reducing their deficits in order to be allowed to keep borrowing at reasonable interest rates. The alternative is effectively bankruptcy ("screw this"). This would require them to balance their budget overnight, because few would be willing to lend to them. That is "screw this" would require much deeper spending cuts than "austerity". That's why Greece has chosen "austerity" over "screw this".

"Stop buying into the fallacy of large numbers, it looks scary to you the individual"

It may be tough for the average citizen to get a grasp on what the debt level means. Sure $51,000 per man, woman, and child ($204,000 for a family of four) may sound like a lot, but is it really a problem? Well, the people who have the best grasp on the state of the U.S. economy and the Federal budget almost unanimously agree that it is essential that we bring the debt under control to ensure future economic stability. The CBO and the Fed have both consistently made statements favoring policies that would move deficits to stable and low levels (say 2% of GDP).

"Too bad you don't realize where the real money is going. The sums that go to the poor are not the majority share of government spending on special interests, they aren't even a plurality. They're a drop in the bucket."

In 2011 about two-thirds of the Federal budget (excluding interest on the debt) went to transfer programs: Social Security(726bn), Medicare(574bn), Medicaid(268bn), Other Income Security Programs(352bn), Other Discretionary Outlays for Health, Income Security, and Education(~200bn). You could argue that a lot of that money doesn't go to the poor per se. But the intent of all of those programs is to transfer money from people with higher incomes to those with lower. I know a dollar isn't what it used to be, but two trillion of them seem to be more than a drop in the bucket.

Discussions of fiscal sustainability should not be polarized polemical disputes that end with references to killing people. Bringing the budget under control is not a liberal or conservative thing. It's in all of our best interests. If you want to have transfer programs, fine. Then fund transfer programs. Figure out how to sustainably finance your programs for the poor. Because if you just run up debts until interest payments on the federal debt are squeezing the growth out of the economy, those programs will be substantially reduced (out of necessity). Greece is showing us that no amount of protest can make new goods and services appear out of thin air. We can only solve this problem with serious discussion and a willingness to make tough decisions. We need to sort out our priorities and then make plan to pay for them. But anyone who says "screw fiscal responsibility" is charting a road to disaster.

Comment Title should be: Epic Win for Dan Savage (Score 1) 775

I remember reading Savage's column suggesting his recoinage of santorum (I believe it was the result of a reader competition to come up with something nasty to stick the name to) in the Onion. I thought it was a funny idea at the time and it stuck with me. A part of me giggles every time someone says Santorum.

But who'd have thought then that, a decade down the road, this goofy suggestion by a sex columnist might be standing between Santorum and a presidential run. I mean wow, that's pretty cool.

Anyhow, Google just tries to democratically measure what people are talking about on the internet. If more people associate "santorum" with a form of butt goo than with a politician, that's not Google's fault. Santorum just needs to start a campaign to get links from supportive websites to his campaign page and he can probably get that first page-rank. Even though it'll still be right above "santorum = butt goo". But, hey, that's democracy for you.

Comment Comment not well thought out (Score 1) 306

Really? They spend millions of dollars designing this thing and they never thought of the obvious problem that occurred to you 5 second after reading the description. Look at the pictures in the article. It's not a tall vehicle to begin with, and the wing doors are hinged so they don't actually project much above the top of the car.

Comment Might be doable. (Score 1) 516

Yeah but back in the day the media companies weren't too concerned about cassette tape piracy. Today they are more threatened and they might be able to achieve more. If you could get the penalty for possessing a media filled hard drive up around that for possessing a kilo of cocaine the dynamic might change. Add to that roadside searches of laptops and flash drives and random locker/device checks at schools and you could probably scare enough people to slow piracy down a lot.

Plus it would help to build respect for the law and fill our underpopulated prison system.

Comment Re:Actually... (Score 1) 1367

I have sympathy for the authors of the letter to the WSJ because of the attitudes of people like you. I'm an free thinking, rationally minded, individual. I value my right and capacity to evaluate arguments on their merit and to question the factual basis of other people's assertions. When people jump down my throat and call me a sophist, a "denier", and imply that anything I say must be preconceived notions that I have swallowed whole from some fossil fuel industry shill, all because I presumed to point out something that appears to be erroneous in someone else's statement, it irritates me.

The proposition I was testing (in a totally back of the envelope way) was that the temperature record of the past decade shows evidence of warming. I tested this particular proposition, not because I was hand picking data, but because the poster I responded to had suggested that the truth of this proposition was blatantly obvious. It did not seem so to me, and I believe that my quick calculation verified that intuition. Other than that I did not deny anything.

I specifically said "your argument provides good evidence that the past decade has been significantly warmer than other decades in the past 130 years". That is, a clear longer term warming trend exists. I also noted that "one could definitely argue that this does not constitute evidence against global warming". Which is exactly what you are doing.

I would argue however that the vehemence of your reply displays an attitude that is both characteristic of many people who urge action on reducing carbon emissions (something I support) and antithetical to the scientific mindset. There is much evidence that a person's preconceptions can have a significant impact on the outcome of their research, even with seemingly cut and dried empirical work like measuring the charge of the electron. The potential for bias induced error is undoubtedly much greater in a theoretical and speculative investigation like climate modeling, in which many important variables can only be roughly estimated. Combine with that potential the very real and evident passion displayed by many people who are involved in the research and you have a formula for bad science.

I have degrees in physics and economics. Physics draws conclusions from repeated experiments under carefully controlled conditions. Economics must rely on theory and limited data run through sophisticated econometric models, because the systems under consideration are not subject to control and repetition. Economists try to tease answers from our limited data. Answering a question like "Was the recent stimulus bill effective in promoting economic growth?" is not easy. Ideally we would set up the exact conditions of the U.S. in 2008 and try several runs with the stimulus bill and several without, then compare the results. That, unfortunately, is not possible. One can try to answer the question using mathematical models and computer simulations but the conclusion depends on how you handle your data and set up your model. Indeed, none of the models are able to predict the future trajectory of the economy with accuracy. Which is what I think the authors were getting at. If the climate models are so completely accurate that no reasonable person could possibly question them, then why did none of them predict flat global average temperatures over the past decade? If they're not that accurate, then why are people who ask seemingly reasonable questions about them insulted and shouted down?

I would suggest that climate modeling is much more similar to modelling the economy than to modelling, say, the trajectory of a space capsule. The problem of studying global warming is far more complicated than that of studying the impact of smoking on cancer rates. If we had data on the fates of thousands of Earth-like planets, some of which had been inhabited by carbon emitting civilizations and others not, the analogy would be apt. We could draw a strong statistical conclusion and act on it.

I am not however suggesting inaction. In the absence of conclusive evidence we must still make decisions. It seems obvious that we ought to act in a risk averse way when making decisions about the environment upon which we depend for our continued existence. So, by all means, let us do everything we can to protect the environment given what understanding we can muster (just as we need to formulate economic policy as best we can given our uncertainty).

You should look to your own preconceived notions. While insulting me you manage to suggest that I made many assertions that I did not while pretty much completely ignoring the simple and innocuous point that I did make.

Scientific progress consists almost entirely in people questioning each others data, methods, assumptions etc. That's almost the entire point of peer review. How can we improve our knowledge of the environment when anyone who says anything that even comes close to seeming to question the current consensus is subject to recriminations, name calling, and accusations that they are an enemy of humanity? How can we protect the environment if we can't take the steps necessary to understand it?

Say someone told me that the consensus of economic forecasters was that the U.S. economy will grow by two percent this year. And I replied "no, I believe that they underestimate the potential impact of trouble in European bond markets, I think growth will probably be closer to zero this year". Then my conversational partner responded with recriminations, name calling, and accusations that I was clearly evil and unpatriotic. Wouldn't that be weird?

I think many of the supposed "deniers", should probably just be called questioners. They are people who, like me, posses that perverse sort of irresistible curiosity that, when told "don't ask questions!", immediately respond by asking "why?" All scientific conclusions come with a degree of uncertainty, and climate models more than most. I think that some environmentalists fear that the public can't deal with uncertainty. They fear (perhaps reasonably) that, unless the disastrous warming conclusion is seen as being 100% certain, people will never get behind an effort to curtail carbon emissions. So a taboo has evolved such that it should be considered intolerable for anyone to question the science around global warming (to the likely detriment of our actual understanding of the Earth's climate). What should be regarded as a reasonable and well supported scientific theory has taken on the character of dogma, with anyone who questions the party line being subjected to ostracism and ad hominem attacks (see above).

Comment Actually... (Score 4, Interesting) 1367

When you said "notice a pattern", I looked at the numbers and thought: "no". Your subject says "in the past decade". Your argument provides good evidence that the past decade has been significantly warmer than other decades in the past 130 years, however it does not support the argument that significant warming has occurred during the past 10 years . I ran a quick regression of those rank order vs year pairs just to check my intuition that they were not noticeably positively related. Indeed, the coefficient was -0.0449. That is, later years on that list tended to have slightly (insignificantly) lower ranks than earlier years.

That inspired me to go the next step. Instead of using the ranks you gave, I grabbed the global temperature deviations for those years off of the Wikipedia instrumental temperature record page. Running another regression I got a coefficient of 0.001201 with a p-value of 0.7046 for an F-test. So, statistically significant warming was not detected in the sample of years you provided.

Actually if we ran 2002-2011 (two very recent years, 2008 and 2011, don't make the top ten list) to check the last decade, we get a negative but insignificant relationship. So it's pretty clear that there has been no global warming in the past decade. The authors were, technically, correct. One could definitely argue that this does not constitute evidence against global warming. But that was not your approach.

Not to be a dick. Just saying.

Comment Actually water is the top greenhouse gas. (Score 1) 1367

Seriously. The majority of the earth's greenhouse effect comes from water vapor. If I recall correctly, a doubling of CO2 alone would lead to less than 1C of warming (I got that from reading a past IPCC report though I can't find the specific reference now). This <1C warming causes the atmosphere to hold more water vapor, which warms things up further, which evaporates more water, etc. In the worst scenarios, other positive feedbacks, such as warming oceans holding less dissolved CO2 and methane being released from thawing tundra, kick in and accelerate the process still further.

This actually is my biggest beef with these long term climate models. Their assumptions seem to suggest that the earth's climate is an unstable equilibrium, like a marble balanced precariously on top of an inverted bowl. Push it a little and woosh, a positive feedback loop causes runaway change. We know however that the earth's climate fluctuated pretty significantly in the past with out running away. There must be some negative feedbacks and buffers as well. The anthropic principle suggest's that the Earth's climate must be a stable equilibrium, like a marble in the bottom of an upright bowl: push it a little and it rolls back toward the center. Otherwise the Earth would long ago have run away and become a boiling hot house like Venus and we wouldn't be here.

Of course we should exercise caution in messing around with the atmosphere of the planet upon which we depend for our continued existence. I totally support a carbon tax, just to be safe. But the Earth and its atmosphere are a ridiculously complex system and the accuracy of these models is almost certainly overstated.

Comment Actually it is a good question. (Score 1) 433

Actually economics suggests that in the presence of competition the price of a good or service will tend to fall to the marginal cost (cost of the last unit brought to market) of providing that good or service. If Company A charges 40 cents for a text message that costs them 2 cents to send, Company B could take away a large number of customers (capturing a ton of profit) by charging 35 cents instead. Of course, then Company A could come back with a 30 cent deal etc. In this way the price would fall until both companies charged something like 2.5 cents a text. This is how most markets really do work. A market in which companies charge vastly more than the marginal cost of the product would prompt any economist to immediately ask: "where's the competition?"

People frequently believe that greed explains high prices, but then what explains low prices? Altruism? People work for minimum wage, not because they want to do their employer a favor, but because, if they demanded more, other workers would step in and offer to do the job at the current wage (competition). The same applies to hamburgers, shoes, hard drives, and cars, but not text messages. Why?

Comment High Replication Data Store (Score 1) 592

Google uses what they call the High Replication Data Store. Data saved this way is synchronously stored on hard drives in multiple (three or more) data centers, most likely in different countries, if not on different continents. Synchronously means that if any of the data centers has problems then any of the others can take over immediately with no loss of data. It's about as resilient as you can get.

Comment Wait, Information is Property? (Score 1) 592

If the point of this case is protecting intellectual property, what happened to the right of all the user's of Megaupload to their intellectual property? It's like if some criminal organizations had deposited some stolen money in a bank, and the authorities froze all of the assets of all of the bank's customers, criminal or no, for an indefinite period (to protect the property rights of the victims of the theft). It's outrageous. And ironic.

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