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Comment Re:Learning language (Score 1) 140

There is nothing fundamentally different from spoken languages in programming languages

Well, there is the matter of ambiguity. Most human languages have scope for ambiguity in the syntax. A piece of computer code means one thing and one thing only. If it doesn't, it's a bug.

Also computer languages evolve differently from spoken ones. Spoken languages may have a precise syntax, but the speakers are free of ignore or adapt it and the meaning can still be carried across. If you try and get creative with the syntax of a computer language, the computer either doesn't understand (if you'll pardon the anthropomorphism) or worse, it misunderstands and does something other than what you wanted. If you want to evolve a computer language, it needs a change to the language spec and to conforming compilers.

I'm sure there are other differences as well.

Comment Re:Scientology not Science (Score 5, Funny) 951

Without ANY bugs? Really? The only way this idea works is if you have a divine programmer who cannot make any mistakes who created the universe

Reminds me of one of my favourites from /usr/games/fortune

        "Yo, Mike!"
        "Yeah, Gabe?"
        "We got a problem down on Earth. In Utah."
        "I thought you fixed that last century!"
        "No, no, not that. Someone's found a security problem in the physics program. They're getting energy out of nowhere."
        "Blessit! Lemme look... Hey, it's there all right! OK, just a sec... There, that ought to patch it. Dist it out, wouldja?"
                -- Cold Fusion, 1989

Comment Re:How are they going to charge for this? (Score 3, Funny) 199

I'd love to see some evidence for that claim to correct my opinion. XP was what started the meme 'every other Windows release is as bad as a Star Trek (odd number) release', it sucks and should be avoided. (3.11, good, 95, bad, 98, good, ME, bad, XP, good, etc).

Of course! That's why they skipped a version number and jumped from 8 to 10. So they could avoid having to make another good windows and go straight to the next bad one!

It all makes so much sense now...

Comment Re:Piracy will not cease (Score 2) 87

Take as evidence iOS jailbreakers who do it so they can download $0.99 apps for free. There are plenty of people who are never going to pay anything if they can get away with it.

Well sure. On the other hand, look at iTunes. Before iTunes Napster et all were wildly popular. Then Apple starts offering downloads at $0.99 a track and suddenly they're making a ton of money and the music filesharing sites seemed to lose all traction. Lowering the price may not have solved the problem, but it greatly reduced it while creating a revenue stream that wasn't there previously.

There will always be those who won't pay, granted. With that in mind, the question becomes one of how much do you want to penalise the honest Internet users in the vain pursuit of an unobtainable absolute?

If you think for example that a computer game is too expensive and you pirate it, surely you should put the amount that you think is correct in an envelope and send it to the producer of the game? How many people are doing that? Everyone else is just lying.

Well, if someone was to illegally download a game, they'd be foolish to provide paper evidence of the crime, so to that extent I suppose it's understandable. On the other hand, if the game creators established a channel for this to happen safely, they might be surprised. I mean that's the basis on which Humble Bundles operate and I gather they've frequently been quite successful.

Granted, it's the publisher's decision whether or not to offer work on those terms, but you can't really claim it never happens or that it never works.

Comment Re:Politicans don't understand science (Score 1) 320

Most scientist that influence politics are social scientists, political scientists, medicine, theologians, philosophers, economists, and historians.

You think historians are scientists? Really? Theologians? Seriously?

I did have a fairly detailed reply in mind. Then I read that little gem and decided that there was nothing I could say that would make you look stupider than you do right now.

I'm going to go talk to the grown-ups. Do feel free to have the last word.

Comment Re:Is the smartwatch fad stillborn? (Score 1) 60

Some tech writers have made this point already, and I probably won't get it out as clearly as they have, but the problem with smartwatches and our perception of them is that we're thinking about them in the here and now, and not in the future. Microsoft (well, Ballmer) famously laughed at the iPhone as too expensive and useless before it took off and crushed the Microsoft Mobile business into dust. He was thinking of the here and now, and not the future.


I think there's a difference though. When the iPhone came out it had this tremendous aura of Cool about it. I say that as someone who is in no way an Apple fan. I think just about everyone (or everyone who didn't have a vested interest in a competing product) could see that.

This is where Apple's so-called fanboys can be used to bootstrap a tech shift that would've taken much longer otherwise. When enough people start wearing these watches, they'll start to have more applications.

The thing is, I don't get that "Cool" vibe from these watches at all. I mean if the bootstrapping effect takes off then that's great, but I'll be surprised if they have the impetus needed to carry the change. Maybe I'm just not part of the target audience :)

Comment Re:Politicans don't understand science (Score 1) 320

There are a lot "constitutional democracies", in particular in Europe, that try to limit power to an intellectual elite.

I suppose we could start to have a "my-country-has-a-better-system-of-government-than-your-country" argument. I can't quite see how it would be either relevant or helpful, however. Perhaps if we stick to the matter at hand?

Of course, politics should say something about science: it should pick which scientific theories to believe and decide what policies to derive from them.

Of course. Someone with no scientific background and whose main priorities are getting re-elected and protecting the corporate issues of his campaign contributors is going to be much better placed to make objective assessments than someone whose training and career has been about quantifying objective phenomena. Yup. Totally buying that one.

Where did I say that they weren't "allowed to tell anybody"?

You said "scientists should not become politicians and they should not favor or advocate particular policies". If you say "should not" in the context of politics and lawmaking, you may well find that a lot of people interpret that as a call for sort of legislation or other prohibition.

There is a difference between telling people "an asteroid is going to hit earth" and "I want a law doing X".

If a scientist says "a giant asteroid is going to hit Earth" you can bet that someone will say "you're only saying that to force us to spend money on space exploration. Also the asteroid doesn't exist and will probably miss". Any public statement will be taken as a political one by someone who feels the data works against their interests.

As such, there are no purely neutral scientific publications. And the only way a scientist can stay aloof from accusations of politics is to remain silent.

Why is it always about "forbidding" with you people?

See previous point about "should not" in the context of politics. Perhaps you haven't been explaining yourself as clearly as you might have wished?

Scientists can do whatever they want, but as a society we should recognize that people who lobby for laws cease being responsible scientists and treat them accordingly.

We could apply that more broadly. I mean doctors are pretty much scientists. We should probably ignore them when formulating medical policy. Likewise we should probably not give any special consideration to teachers when it comes to Education. And we'll probably have to stop all those lawyers from exerting undue influence over lawmaking. And stop the bankers and financiers from influencing fiscal policy.

OK, so those last two almost seem like good ideas. I still think it wouldn't work :)

Actually, I really do think that's just an opinion.

No, sadly, it's historical fact.

Umm, which bits? The "all politicians are venal and corrupt" part? Or the implication that "only the political left has abused science in support of genocide, racism or political extremism"?

There may be facts in there somewhere, but I really don't think they come close to supporting the conclusion you appear to have drawn. Sorry, but it remains just your opinion.

Comment Re:Politicans don't understand science (Score 1) 320

So basically, you support the use of referenda to determine policy on important scientific matters? That seems to be what you're saying. So who decides what's important enough for a plebiscite and what isn't?

Plebiscites are usually held once people collect enough signatures indicating that they want one to be held.

Doesn't work that way in my constitutional democracy :) Still I'm quite happy to discuss the matter with reference to US electoral procedure. Just bear with me if I'm ignorant on some points. Like I say, I don't know my plebiscites from my cenobites.

My point is that science by itself has nothing relevant to say about politics at all.

I don't actually disagree with you about that. Of course, by the same token politics shouldn't say anything about science either, which doesn't seem to be the case at the moment. That brings me back to my initial point: politicians tend to see everything as politics and they any publication of scientific findings as either an attack on their position or welcome support for what they've been saying all along.

The trouble is that, at the level of formulating policy, too many politicians think that evidence is something you commission a think-tank to write for you. They see "science" as another think-tank and if they don't like the findings, they assume that they must be politically motivated. I don't think this is entirely helpful.

These days, of course, it would be easy to give the people the power to vote on pretty much every law. What objection would you have to that?

None whatsoever. Although it would seem to require electronic voting, and are still issues around the technology that, until they get resolved, it's unlikely there'll be enough trust in the technique to make it viable for wider use. But that's wandering off into a whole other discussion.

Quite the opposite: scientists should not become politicians and they should not favor or advocate particular policies; it corrupts the science.

I'm not sure that's consistent with your earlier declaration that "The only way science should ever influence policy in a democracy is by convincing a majority of voters". I mean if scientists aren't allowed to lobby for laws based on their findings and if apparently they're now not allowed to tell anyone about those findings, then what are they allowed do? Going back to the case of the hypothetical extinction event asteroid, the human race may well perish while the scientists are waiting for an actual politician to read their papers and learn that a threat exists.

Also, it does seem as though you're forbidding people from participating in the political process based on their profession. I'd have thought that you'd have had problems with that, yourself.

And more to the point, isn't this the very activity that the political right have used to brand scientists as hypocrites and liars in the past.

And the political right is correct on these points. That's not just an opinion or a preference, it's a lesson that history has taught us painfully in the form of racism, socialism, and genocide: all of them justified by science and scientists, and often motivated by a crisis that scientists claimed to have recognized.

Actually, I really do think that's just an opinion.

Comment Re:Politicans don't understand science (Score 1) 320

It's pretty easy to hold a plebicite in such a case on short notice

I'll take your word for it. I always get my plebiscites mixed up with my ammonites and my cenobites.

It's pretty easy to hold a plebicite in such a case on and the question certainly is important enough to do so

So basically, you support the use of referenda to determine policy on important scientific matters? That seems to be what you're saying.

So who decides what's important enough for a plebiscite and what isn't? I mean the extinction event asteroid is a clear enough case, but what about the edge cases? How do you do that without setting policy based on scientific evidence?

Are you sure you've thought this through?

You certainly haven't,

No. No I haven't. The proposal that "The only way science should ever influence policy in a democracy is by convincing a majority of voters" is your idea. That means that thinking it through is your job. I'm just trying to find out if you have in fact done so as well as you seem to think.

since even your absurdly literal interpretation of my statement, combined with your unrealistic straw man

Given that a straw man argument is where you deliberate misrepresent anothers's position in order to discredit it, I don't think you can combine a straw man with an absurdly literal interpretation - that would be a contradiction in terms.

I gave you a hypothetical situation and asked my interpretation of your idea was correct. You corrected my understanding of your idea. I believe that's called "debate". (I will admit to poking fun at your argument, but that's not in itself a logical fallacy.)

still admits a simple democratic solution.

I suppose the simplicity of the thing is one of the aspects that bothers me, really. Solutions that propose a single inflexible criteria for deciding potentially complex cases are very often ill-conceived in my experience.

For instance, aren't you basically saying that if a scientist has data that he feels demands a change in policy, the scientist has to stop doing science and become a politician? I mean since that's basically the profession of swaying public opinion in order to affect electoral results. Wouldn't that then stop them from doing the things they get paid for? Or from refining their results?

And more to the point, isn't this the very activity that the political right have used to brand scientists as hypocrites and liars in the past? You know, the idea that they're playing at politics when they should be doing science?

Do please correct me if I've misinterpreted anything that you've said. I'd hate to think I was putting words into your mouth.

Comment Re:Politicans don't understand science (Score 1) 320

The only way science should ever influence policy in a democracy is by convincing a majority of voters

So let me see if I've got this straight. Let's suppose:

  • Astronomers detect "dinosaur killer" scale asteroid on collision course for Earth. ETA three years time
  • Project is proposed to divert asteroid. Time needed two years
  • You say "sorry, that's scientific information. we can't act on that until after the next election when the Will of the People will have been heard".
  • Everyone else: "but it's due to hit the planet before then!"
  • You: "Sorry, it's a matter of principle. Nothing I can do about it."

... and so the entire human race goes Gently Into That Good Night rather than base policy on scientific consensus.

Are you sure you've thought this through?

Comment Re:Politicans don't understand science (Score 1) 320

I don't generally complain about downmods, but on the off chance that someone genuinely doesn't see the relevance:

The question is "Why Does Science Appear To Be Getting Things Increasingly Wrong?"

My answer is "because it suits politicians to try and discredit science at this time".

How is that off topic?

Comment Politicans don't understand science (Score 2, Interesting) 320

I tend to blame the modern political mindset rather than capitalism. I think the problem is that politicians tend to treat "science" as just another political party. I better explain that a little...

There seems to be an idea in political circules that perception == reality. i.e. whatever people believe to be true is effectively true, at least for purposes of governemnt and re-election. Because of this, politicians tend to state as truth whatever they want the truth to be, in the hope and expectation that if they convince enough people then that statement will become true, for political criteria of truth, anyway.

So when a scientist finds evidence for something that that works against a politician's aims, the politician tends react as if it was a political statement. It's automatically held to be false (because perception == truth) and the politican immediately move to discredit the offending notion by whatever means necessary. It's a fundamental clash of mindsets.

Lately, I think science as a whole must have been causing more than the usual amount of headaches in some quarters, because the we seem to have moved from attempting to discredit particular scientific opinions to discrediting science as a whole. So we have attempts to apply moral relativism to scientific opinion, attempts to paint scientists as basically corrupt and venal, etc, etc.

That's my take on it anyway.

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