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Comment New Problems Aren't Worse Problems (Score 1) 146

Sure, self-driving cars will frustrate us in new ways and it's always great to address potential issues prospectively.

However, just because you are used to all the frustrations and inconveniences of the current system and you're just thinking about the annoyances of self-driving cars for the first time doesn't mean the new annoyances are worse than the old.

Those of us who live on obscure streets or on divided streets have had to talk taxi drivers, friends and delivery people to our houses for years. GPS has made much of this easier but the whole complaint here is that google doesn't know exactly where every address is.

Yes, self-driving cars remove the option of talking the driver in despite the GPS error. But in the long run we are better off if we are forced to learn once that "Address X" will bring any visitors to our home rather than having to give them all directions. Not only is this an easy simple fix it actually forces us to do what we should have done a long time ago.

Comment This is Crap (Score 1) 267

We have nothing but pure guesswork to go on in estimating the probability that intelligent life will evolve from microscopic life over a given time frame and not much more to go on in estimating the probability of life arising in the first place.

Yes, I personally find the arguments that we aren't the only intelligent life in the universe compelling but suggesting that MATH tells us this is true is simply misleading. People whose prior probability that intelligent life evolves given a suitable planet is super low are perfectly justified in their beliefs.

Comment Re:A Rational Reaction To Irrational Beliefs (Score 1) 201

Except in most of the world the religious text isn't "a piece of literature"

If you grow up in most of the islamic world the idea that the Koran is just a piece of literature is literally unthinkable. In a society where it's not even legal (much less socially acceptable) to even suggest that the Koran isn't literally the message of a divine being it's not surprising that some fraction of people looking for coherent answers from the world choose to believe it rather than becoming secret skeptics.

The amount of literature you have read doesn't really enter into this if it's not even within the realm of consideration that your holy book is just another piece of literature.

Comment Re:A Rational Reaction To Irrational Beliefs (Score 1) 201

And what part of my comment suggested this wasn't the case.

I merely identified one way in which the gap between what people profess to believe and what they really believe can lead to harm.

I mentioned atheism because I think it is the most plausibly culturally acceptable/noticeable coherent belief system that doesn't easily support extremism. There is no logical reason you couldn't have a coherent religious belief system that did the same thing but such a system is unlikely to gain significant traction. Such a system would have to openly embrace the idea that belief isn't very important (better that people live a better life than they believe) and that reward in the next life doesn't trump outcomes in this life...views that are likely to be out-competed by more self-protective religious memes promising greater benefits to the faithful.

Comment Good Science Doesn't Justify Bad Philosophy (Score 1) 386

The fact that our brains can sometimes hide or disguise influences on our choices has nothing to do with free will.

Indeed, we've long known that factors we don't think are influencing our choices can indeed do so. For example, subconscious racism or classic experiments showing that people asked to choose between identical items will select the one on the right (and they make up reasons it's better). This experiment no more implicates free will than these well known facts.

The issue of free will has been explored at length in philosophy and doing a neat experiment doesn't give you special warrant to ignore these points. If one was familiar with the old doctrine of compatibilism (yes you can have free will and determinism because what determines your actions is your brain state which is you) it would be immediate that so long as you view the brain process which responds to the visual image as a part of the individual making the choice free will isn't called into question at all.

Yes, it's interesting that our choices can be realized in such a counter-intuitive way but don't try and over sell the result by claiming philosophical implications you haven't seriously thought through (or bothered to read the existing literature about)

Comment A Rational Reaction To Irrational Beliefs (Score 2) 201

Many of the posts here are either giving (a type of) science nerds crap for believing in overly simplistic ideologies or using this fact (which is hardly news) to support the terrorists are unislamic shtick (I have no problem defining terrorists out of "true" islam and emphasizing that anti-terrorist doesn't mean anti-islam but let's not pretend this has anything to do with one interpretation being right as a matter of historical interpretation and another one really follows any historically correct interpretation,)

A more generous take on the matter is that people who go into engineering and the sciences are more likely to take belief systems at face value and follow out their logical consequences. I mean even take a fairly mainstream belief like belief in the correct god is essential to salvation and that salvation means the difference between an eternity of bliss and an eternity of suffering. If you *really* believe that then any decent person should be willing to bring about any amount of earthly suffering to convince just one more person to believe correctly since that earthly harm is surely outweighed by the difference between an eternity of bliss and an eternity of suffering.

The moral I take is that most people don't really whole heartedly believe what they profess. Instead they put social cues from their community over the implications of the faith they claim to believe. On the other hand even supposedly mainstream religious beliefs can encourage people who take these things seriously to search for a more coherent solution.

When atheism is a serious option things probably turn out pretty well but in a society where the only coherent narrative is being offered by extremists a small fraction of those looking for serious coherent answers will turn to them.

Comment Doppler Velocity and Uncorrelated Position Errors (Score 1) 131

The authors suggest that doppler velocity calculations should be immune to the kind of overestimation they claim sampling position measurements suffers from. I don't think this can be the case.

Let's first focus on what is wikipedia claims is the largest source of error: signal delay from the ionosphere. It seems reasonable to assume that this delay changes in a continuous manner with time. However, that means that the (non-shared) error introduced into position measurements as a result also shows up in the Doppler velocity estimations.

Indeed, one can think of Doppler velocity measurements as, at the theoretical limit of accuracy, being just another GPS measurement using the difference between the actual and expected number of wave creasts observed as the change in signal delay. Thus it would seem it would suffer the exact same problem as a sophisticated position sampling approach.

Non-continuous errors might be different, e.g., multi-path effects, but these should result in greater Doppler velocity errors than positional errors (the position error shouldn't be at most approximately the distance of the receiver from the source of the reflection while the Doppler velocity measurement could be totally reversed).

Am I missing something?

Comment Hypocripsy != Comprimise (Score 1) 191

While I do think hypocrisy is (unfortunately) politically essential it is not what Barney Frank is defending.

A legislator is perfectly able to vote for bills they personally don't think are good for the sake of political capital without being hypocritical. Yes, voters are dumb (and rationally ignorant) but voters understand the need for political compromise and legislators can certainly explain that they voted as they did as a compromise to achieve some more important goal. Indeed, this is exactly what Frank is doing.

Comment Great Idea (Score 1) 163

Now if they just pass laws which make sure that if you can prove you are trafficing in *fake* rhino horn you are off the hook for fraud (and their aren't any trafficking laws) it should be possible to drive the market for rhino horns out of existence.

Comment Screw Popularizations! (Score 1) 129

I have no doubt that the holographic principle is an interesting mathematical representation of certain physical laws. It is no doubt quite useful in solving certain problems and may even be suggestive of new phyisical theories.

However, it's just nonsense to get excited just because you know that the physical laws can be represented in fewer dimensions. OF COURSE THEY CAN. You can always code the information about any functions/distributions/whatever in n dimensional space in fewer dimensions. The holographic principle is just doing it in a way that isn't horribly ugly (probably preserves certain properties that aren't even mentioned in popularizations). In fact it's not at all uncommon for the information about the solution to some (class of) mathematical problems to be fully reflected in the behavior of that solution on some smaller dimensional part.

In short, while this may be quite interesting to the people actually doing the math if you aren't you certainly shouldn't pretend this gives you some deep insight into what the universe is "really" like.

Comment Useless Bandaid (Score 1) 634

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He meant about this matter. He is also wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn't contradict it.

However, it does provide EVIDENCE against the hypothesis.

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

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

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I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos. -- Albert Einstein, on the randomness of quantum mechanics