Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why some types of "political correctness" are necessary

Someone recently reminded me that I said I would do a post on this topic. As it happens, there was an interesting kerfluffle recently that discussed this topic.

Comrade PhysioProf discusses the appearance of a few sexist comments in the responses to a bog post welcoming a new female scientist to discover blogs, and why the "compliments" are still inappropriate. Now, grown men and women are certainly capable of slapping this sort of nonsense down independently. Teenagers are not as experienced, knowledgeable, nor independent. It is much harder for a teenager to speak out against a community of peers than it is for adults. Also, language guides thought, and teenagers are still learning their thought-patterns. Teaching them not to say such things will mean they all be less inclined to think these things.

A second type of case is when the legislature of a state/nation chooses a symbol that is deeply offensive to a large selection of the populace, when there are many other non-offensive ways to proclaim the same message. An example would be when South Carolina flew the Confederate flag over their statehouse. Many of those same sentiments would have been expressed by flying the "Live free or die" flag, or any one of dozens of other possible flags. It is inappropriate to choose a symbol for black South Carolinians that they hate. Note,that this is different from groups that hate the flag chosen by South Carolina because it is South Carolina.

I agree that many of the reactions of people get overblown (such as the response to "niggardly"), and that no one has a right to keep adults from saying offensive things. However,in the two situations of trying to educate people, and of government speech, I think that considerations teaching what/how to think and of being a government for all the people do make it important keep speech and symbols inoffensive.
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Learning to live a normal life

It's been over a year since I've written about Son#1. A lot of that is because his behavior is getting to be so much closer to that of other kids, there's little to say about how different he is. He goes to football games, basketball games, and plays at the high school. He's taking a pre-Algebra class, and should be taking Algebra 1 next year. He is starting to lose some weight (he has been very heavy for a long time) and even plays with other kids from time to time. All of this without chelation therapy, a special diet, or anything else besides some extra attention at school and lots of love and acceptance at home. He even baby-sits our kids.

Of course, he's still immature emotionally, and is facing some issues because of that. When he was in a splash fight at the pool last week, he got poked in the eye with a noodle, and tried to hit the other kid in retaliation. He was walking home from a tennis game with Son#2 when a few other teens tried to get him to go with them by saying they loved him. We had to have a talk about real fiends and people who say they are your friend for no reason. In some ways he's still less adult than Daughter#2 (who is eight years younger).

So, we continue love, hope, work, and wait.
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Sunday, March 22, 2009

A lack of imagination, or how a skeptic thinks

The Maverick Philosopher apparently also has his knickers in a twist over what it means to be "negative atheist", which seems to be the term he uses for what I would call a "weak atheist". He engages in a great deal of categorization about how atheism is a proposition. Still, after all this, he can't seem to find a way to give any other proposition than

If atheism and theism are worth discussing, then atheism is the view that God does not exist and theism is the view that God does exist.

At the end of the post, he queries, "So what's going on here? What am I missing?". I am only too happy to clarify this for Dr. Vallicella.

The proposition for the negative atheist would be, approximately, "There is no sound reasoning that leads to the conclusion God exists". This proposition certainly leads to a wealth of discussion over the topic, as theists and atheist discuss various arguments and why the reasoning is sound or not.

One of the most artificial assumptions in logic is the position that every statement needs to be assigned a value of true or false. Mathematicians,for the most part, are comfortable with this assumption because it is sufficient for mathematics. However, it is certainly not sufficient for reality. One of the features of skeptics is that we are comfortable saying "not enough evidence exists to make a decision". I see no reason to say God does not exist. I also see no reason to say God exists. So, I'm a "negative atheist". I'm not unsure about whether I believe in God, I don't believe in God, just like I don't believe in homeopathy, reiki, or theraputic touch.

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My Pavlovian experience

Daughter #1 (who seems to have a fairly present case of ADHD) just had to miss a week of school from illness. So, we were working on some of the homework yesterday (adding fractions of different denominators), and the usual screaming fit was beginning. Any time she needs to work three or four steps to solve a problem, she loses focus on what to do at first and gets easily confused. This leads to crying fits, etc.

So yesterday, with the second problem of so,I started given her an M&M every time she did a step of the problem correct. This seemed to calm her down, to the point she did the last problem wihtout help.

I have no idea if this is a good long-term idea or not. But with all the work there was to do, I can't say I regret it.

Late addition:

We got a lot morework done today, lots of praise (including before we bagan the homework) but no M&M's.
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Delusion at a high level

Really, that's the only way I can describe this sentence from a recent post at the Maverick Philosopher.

The bolded passage addresses the fundamental and apparently unbridgeable difference between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives take a sober and realistic (not pessimistic!) view of the world and the people in it. They are reality-based, and put no faith in utopian schemes. Like good Aristotelians, they take the actualities of the present and the past as a reliable guide to what is possible, rather than the future-oriented fabrications of a high-flying reason cut loose from experience.

Just a few utopian, non-reality based schemes of conservatives:

Abstinence-only education
Elimination of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research
Global warming denialism

Liberals and leftists, by contrast, joined by many anarchists and libertarians, labor under the misapprehension that human beings are inherently good, and would achieve an optimal condition either through massive statist intervention, or the elimination of the state altogether. Strange bedfellows these, but lying together in the bed of a common illusion.

Many liberals think that most humans are inherently responsive to their environment, and while there will always be exceptions to that, the best way to reduce negative behavior is to remove the inducements to such behavior.

Oh, and his great example of hypocrisy? Noam Chomsky has the nerve take advantage fop the tax laws in the same was other rich people do! Conservatives don't bother to explain why this is hypocritical, because such explanations would be thoroughly laughable.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

107th meeting of the Skeptics circle

The 107th meeting of the Skeptics Circle is up at the Skeptic's Field Guide. It includes a podcast as well as a link list.
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It turns out homeopathy works, after all

I can't stomach coffee, literally. So, I drink a lot of iced tea. Rather than use an instant, I boil water, brew the tea and ice it. It was in the process of doing this I discovered that water really does have a memory.

At work, I use the company microwave to heat my tea. A pint of water fresh from the tap takes about 4 minutes to boil in it (I make quart of iced tea at a time). Because I don't like standing around doing nothing, I usually go back to my desk while it boils. However, sometimes I get distracted at my desk, and don't get back in time to brew the tea. I have noticed something amazing: it takes less time to boil the water a second time. The water obviously remembers being boiled, an so will boil again in 1 to one-and-one-half minutes.

So far, I have not experimented with different aids to test the length of this memory. Will certain cups aid it? Does water remember being boiled better when the water is uncovered or covered? How about when encased in a gelatin pill? I have some hunches, but not enough time to perform some standardized tests at work. I leave it to all the scientists who work with homeopathic remedies to investigate this further.
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Repost,enhanced: Probability and the 18 19 mechanisms

Every now and then I see bloggers repost someof their favorites. I think I might make this one an annual post, adding additional mechanisms as I learn about them. This post started with 15, and is now up to 18 19.

I'm expanding on a couple of different posts I made at the Skeptic's Annotated Bible Discussion Board, one of my favorite hang-outs. Basically, you see a lot of probability discussions in IDC literature. This is one more reason why they are nonsense. They generally looked at random mutation (that is, the replacement of one "letter" in the DNA with another letter) and natural selection.

There are at least 18 different mechanisms involved in evolution:

Mechanisms that increase diversity in a population
Random replacement mutation in DNA
Gene duplication
Frame shift mutation
Gene flow from other species
Environmentally generated changes to DNA decoding
Protein changes (prions, etc.)

Mechanisms that alter allele proportions in a population
Natural selection
Sexual selection
Sexually antagonistic selection
Random genetic drift
Kin selection
Molecular drive

Mechanisms that operate at a level above populations
Punctuated equilibrium
Extinction/competition/invasive species
Mass extinction events
Parasitic/symbiotic relationships (note this is different from the symbiosis that occurs at the genetic/cellular level).

To do a probability calculation, you need to account not only for the probabilities of each of these mechanisms, but also for the independence of every possible subset of these mechanisms. that would be 524,288 (2^19) 262,144 (2^18) possible subsets, so any probability calculation would require you to factor in 524,288 262,144 different probabilities. The next IDC document I see that uses more than 10 factors will be the first.

Just one more way IDC falls short of even it's own goals.
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