Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Science writer on facts with no scientific significance

If you were a respectable science writer, affiliated with a respectable university and a respectable left-leaning science magazine, and you were a closet Nazi, what would you do? If you expressed any Nazi opinions, you would be fired and never get work as a science writer again.

You would denounce Nazis with silly and stupid arguments. Better yet, you would parody the arguments of your leftist overlords.

SciAm's John Horgan writes:
But Chomsky has expressed abhorrence for research into cognitive differences between different groups. In his 1987 book Language and Problems of Knowledge Chomsky wrote: “Surely people differ in their biologically determined qualities. The world would be too horrible to contemplate if they did not. But discovery of a correlation between some of these qualities is of no scientific interest and of no social significance, except to racists, sexists and the like.” ...

Damore and his supporters present themselves as heroic champions of free inquiry in an era of stultifying political correctness. But when you suggest that white males are biologically superior to other groups, you are sticking up for those who hold power and denigrating those who lack it. You are feeding our society’s corrosive sexism and racism. That makes you a bully, not a hero, especially if you are a white male yourself. You deserve to be fired.
So only certain races are able student certain aspects of biology, but it would be racist to let all races tell the truth!

Leftists hold all the academic power today, so no one in academia should express leftist views as that would be sticking up for those who hold power!

One should not be criticizing Google, because that would be picking on the powerless!

If someone publishes a theory of biological superiority, then no one should refute it, because it is better to bully the guy into silence, and then make a statement against bullying!

Makes sense to me, if Horgan is a closet Nazi. Ditto with Chomsky.

Scott Aaronson has a somewhat different approach. He keeps reminding us that he agrees 98% with the Leftists, and parrots their Trump-hating epithets, but he cannot go all the way:
And therefore I say: if James Damore deserves to be fired from Google, for treating evolutionary psychology as potentially relevant to social issues, then Steven Pinker deserves to be fired from Harvard for the same offense. ...

the argument would be this:

If the elites, the technocrats, the “Cathedral”-dwellers, were willing to lie to the masses about humans being blank slates — and they obviously were — then why shouldn’t we assume that they also lied to us about healthcare and free trade and guns and climate change and everything else?

We progressives deluded ourselves that we could permanently shame our enemies into silence, on pain of sexism, racism, xenophobia, and other blasphemies. But the “victories” won that way were hollow and illusory, and the crumbling of the illusion brings us to where we are now: with a vindictive, delusional madman in the White House who has a non-negligible chance of starting a nuclear war this week. ...

I fantasize that, within my lifetime, the Enlightenment will expand further to tolerate a diversity of cognitive styles — including people on the Asperger’s and autism spectrum, with their penchant for speaking uncomfortable truths—as well as a diversity of natural abilities and inclinations.
No, I don't think that the Ctrl-Left will tolerate real-talkers.

One comment says:
I was struck by the juxtaposition of two of the author’s remarks:

“I believe it’s a tragedy that the current holder of the US presidency is a confessed sexual predator, who’s full of contempt not merely for feminism, but for essentially every worthwhile human value. I believe those of us on the “pro-Enlightenment side” now face the historic burden of banding together to stop this thug.”

“Any comment, from any side, that attacks people rather than propositions will be deleted. I don’t care if the comment also makes useful points: if it contains a single ad hominem, it’s out.”

No attacks on people you say? I guess consistency really is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Pres. Trump is not a "confessed sexual predator". I assume that Aaronson just says this stuff so he will not get ostracized by his fellow leftists.

This is just what closet Trump supporter would say. He would just babble inconsistent anti-Trump epithets without any substantive arguments. He is like a professor in a Communist country who has to sprinkle Marxist slogans in his writings get stay in the good graces of the Communist authorities. In today's leftist groupthink academic world, Aaronson only dares to deviate from the Ctrl-Left orthodoxy in trivial ways.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Google and genetic determinism

There is a new wave of articles on biologial determinism, such as this:
As far as deterministic claims go, Damore’s are redundant — he could have just copy-pasted the text of one of thousands of these written in the early 20th century — and also milder than many. In the past few centuries, the same line of argument has been used to argue for the racial superiority of whites, the inferiority of women, and to justify transphobia. ... Still, biologically deterministic arguments like his can easily slip into eugenicist doctrines of yore.
This is rebutted here, with much more scientific detail here.

Biological determinism is not necessarily even important to Damore's points, as noted by a commenter:
Whether the observed differences between men and women are culturally determined or biologically hardwired or some combination of the two is, for the matter at hand, completely irrelevant. This is the population that companies recruit their employees from, and even if the differences would go away if children would grow up in some gender-neutral utopia, it cannot be expected of a company to change society in such a manner in a time frame that is relevant for their hiring process right now.

Furthermore, I would not WANT a company, especially an extremely powerful one that basically provides large parts of the infrastructure for our communication, to be active in social engineering, without any accountability to the public. This sort of thing cannot possibly end well, especially if the people in charge have put on their ideological blinders and casually dismiss the current state of science (and anyone foolish enough to bring it up in the hope that simply being correct will protect him). ...

Ignore human nature at your own peril. It’s better to be aware of it, and to try to channel it into productive activities, than to deny and suppress it.
For strange political reasons, the Ctrl-Left believes that preferences for sexual relations are genetically determined, while gender identity can be voluntarily changed.

The research says that most human traits, such as abilities, interests, and personalities, are 50-80% heritable. Most of the rest has unknown influences, and you can call it choice or free will if you want. Cultural influences may also have a role.

If men and women are different before they walk into Google's door, then we would expect differences in their employment data. Whether those difference are genetic, otherwise innate, from family influence, from the larger culture, or from pure free will, is outside the control of Google and foolish for Google to try to do anything about it. For individual employees, Google has no way of knowing how he or she may have been influenced.

So all this talk of genetic determinism misses the point.

If you truly don't believe that there are any differences between men and women, and that all people have the same aptitudes and interests and other traits needed in employees, then Google should just be able to hire anyone and train them to undo whatever cultural conditioning they have. Google doesn't do that, of course. It has an overwhelming preference for Asian men as they readily adapt to a caste system where everyone acts and thinks as he is told.

Damore tells his story in the WSJ:
Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” ...

In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. ... Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Taleb attacks historian and philosopher

I mentioned that Massimo Pigliucci was a scientist before becoming a philosopher specializing in pseudoscience,
but perhaps I should have explained. He is one of those leftist ideological evolutionary biologists who denies that there is any such thing as human races.

N. N. Taleb blasts him here, after some controversy about the racial make-up of the Roman Empire.

A philosopher of science, Massimo Pigliucci tried to jump in on the Mary Beard debate from twitter comments, not seeing the argument, writing the highest ratio of BS commentary over original text (only a few tweets). Had he understood anything about statistics he would have worried about the high noise signal ratio.

My point is here. His …

I got angry with him because a philosopher should not engage in strawman arguments. It would be bullshitting [clearly in the Franfurt sense of the word]. Yet he did it. My issue with Beard was representativeness: you do don’t mess with people’s perception of the past. He went off about scientism, something I spent my life fighting using probability limits.
Pigliucci gives his side here.
Nowhere did Beard claim that the presence of dark skinned individuals was “typical” in Roman Britain. She only stated that there was such presence, period. For that kind of modest claim, and despite Taleb’s disdain for it, “anecdotal” evidence is enough.
So I guess that if there was at least one dark skinned Roman, then that justifies a BBC cartoon portraying Romans as dark-skinned.

The larger issue is that Pigliucci is offended by any discussion of the racial make-up of Roman since he does believe that races exist, or that we should talk about them if they do.

If you think Pigliucci is nutty, here is a worse example in Slate:
It was argued to me this week that the Google memo failed to constitute hostile behavior because it cited peer-reviewed articles that suggest women have different brains. The well-known scientist who made this comment to me is both a woman and someone who knows quite well that “peer-reviewed” and “correct” are not interchangeable terms. This brings us to the question that many have grappled with this week. It’s 2017, and to some extent scientific literature still supports a patriarchal view that ranks a man’s intellect above a woman’s. ...

Most saliently in the context of the Google memo, our scientific educations almost never talk about the invention of whiteness and the invention of race in tandem with the early scientific method which placed a high value on taxonomies — which unsurprisingly and almost certainly not coincidentally supported prevailing social views. The standard history of science that is taught to budding scientists is that during the Enlightenment, Europe went from the dark ages to, well, being enlightened by a more progressive mindset characterized by objective “science.” It is the rare scientific education that includes a simultaneous conversation about the rise of violent, imperialist globalization during the same time period. Very few curricula acknowledge that some European scientific “discoveries” were in fact collations of borrowed indigenous knowledge. And far too many universally call technology progress while failing to acknowledge that it has left us in a dangerously warmed climate. ...

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is a particle physicist, philosopher of science at the University of Washington, and editor in chief of the Offing. Follow her on Twitter.
So some Europeans a few centuries ago invented "whiteness" and race, but did not invent any objective science. All their science was stolen indigenous peoples. The article sounds like a joke, but it is not.

(I sometimes to post comments on Pigliucci's blog, but he arbitrarily deletes comments he does not like.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Aaronson on Galileo, Civil War, and Hitler

Scott Aaronson posts some excuses for not commenting on the controversies of the day, such as the Google Diversity Memo, but cannot resist trashing Pres. Trump:
I think it’s clear that Trump is not Hitler (equating the two is even offensive), but equally clear that Trump has taken the US down the first steps of the long path that historically leads to totalitarianism. Trump probably has the closest resemblance to tinpot autocrats ...

Just like the capitalists and communists temporarily set aside their differences to defeat Hitler, ever since before the election I’ve maintained the fantasy that countless segments of American society normally considered diametrically opposed to each other—for example, libertarians and socialists, Silicon Valley nerds and social-justice warriors, New-Age hippies and business leaders, pacifists and national-security hawks, atheists and principled religious believers, etc. etc. — would bury their hatchets for awhile and come together for the shared goal of stopping Trump. It remains a beautiful vision to me, and one that I still hope comes to fruition.
This is obviously just an emotional reaction, and this blog is more concerned with scientific opinions.
When I see social media ablaze with this or that popular falsehood, I sometimes feel the “Galileo urge” washing over me. I think: I’m a tenured professor with a semi-popular blog. How can I look myself in the mirror, if I won’t use my platform and relative job safety to declare to the world, “and yet it moves”?

But then I remember that even Galileo weighed his options and tried hard to be prudent. In his mind, the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems actually represented a compromise (!). Galileo never declared outright that the earth orbits the sun. Instead, he put the Copernican doctrine, as a “possible view,” into the mouth of his character Salviati — only to have Simplicio “refute” Salviati, by the final dialogue, with the argument that faith always trumps reason, and that human beings are pathetically unequipped to deduce the plan of God from mere surface appearances.
And thus he was mocking his sponsors.

The Pope invited him to write a book that fairly presents the scientific arguments. Galileo gave some stupid arguments about the tides, and called the Pope "Simplicio".
In fact, my understanding from Weinberg’s book To Explain the World is that, when you try hard to make the Ptolemaic model work, it basically becomes the Copernican model in all but name! More precisely, the epicycles that arise in calculating the orbits of Mercury, Venus, etc. are just precisely the corrections you would make if you knew from the beginning that they, along with the earth, were all orbiting the sun. So at that point all that remains is a final slice of Occam’s Razor, which Copernicus provided tepidly and Galileo later provided with gusto.

In summary, I view “the Church was right in its dispute with Galileo” as analogous to “the American Civil War had nothing to do with slavery”: a perfect example of a belief people utter when they’ve learned just enough to be wrong, but not yet enough to be unwrong.
I don't know whether Weinberg explains this correctly, but the Ptolemaic model has very little to do with whether the Earth goes around the Sun or the Sun goes around the Earth. Ptolemy has a page or two discussing the matter, but the rest of the model models the appearance of the sky from Earth. More accurate data could have improved the model where at some point it would have been obvious that an Earth orbit could explain epicycles. Likewise the Copernican model could have also been improved to the point where it might have been obvious that elliptical orbits could reduce the epicycles.

The view since relativity is that motion is relative, and one can use either the Earth or the Sun as a frame of reference.

Notice how Aaronson and lot of others keep returning to the same examples for their moral righteousness: Galileo, Civil War, slavery, Hitler. The more I learn about these examples, the more I think they fail to show any of the points that the examples are commonly used for.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The scourge of p-values

Statistician Andrew Gelman posts this excerpt from a recent paper in JAMA, one of the top medical journals:
Nineteen of 203 patients treated with statins and 10 of 217 patients treated with placebo met the study definition of myalgia (9.4% vs 4.6%. P = .054). This finding did not reach statistical sig­nificance, but it indicates a 94.6% prob­ability that statins were responsible for the symptoms.
This is statistical nonsense, and shows that the JAMA editors do not understand p-values. A comment responds:
does anyone have a good, brief, layperson-accessible reference on correct (or at least skillful) interpretation of p-values?

No, this doesn’t exist and probably cannot exist at this point. So many misunderstandings need to be unraveled (and each person probably needs a personalized explanations) that it will take much longer.
Gelman regularly attacks misuse of p-values, but even he got caught explaining them wrong.

The situation appears hopeless. The p-value mess hit the fan 5 or 10 years ago when John Ioannidis showed that most published research is wrong, Daryl Bem showed that standard p-value experiments show that ppl have psychic powers, and studies showed that most medical and psychological research fails to replicate.

In spite of all this, p-values are used as much as ever, and our top journal editors continue to misunderstand them. Our top statisticians cannot even point to a good layman's tutorial.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Simply misinterpreting each other’s intent

Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci is attacking his favorite targets again:
I have plenty of arguments against Trump. A truckload, in fact. That doesn’t change the fact that he does encapsulates several aspects of fascism.

As for Krauss, yes, that’s the bit. What makes him intellectually dishonest is not that he chose a title that would sell, everyone does that. But that he got seriously upset (up to and including pressuring Neil deGrasse Tyson into disinviting Albert from an official American Museum of Natural History event at the Planetarium) when someone pointed out that the content of his book did not reflect the title. He argued he does. So, which one is it? Is the title just a matter of convenience, or does it reflect the content? It can’t be both, in this case.
Albert wrote a NY Times book review of Krauss, complaining mainly that the title uses the word "nothing" instead of "vacuum", and that the endorsement from Dawkins is overstated.

These philosopher opinions have something in common -- there is no substance. Massimo has a truckload of arguments against Trump, but the one he posts is that Trump is a fascist, without any explanation of how he is fascist or how his policies are detrimental or how he is worse than any other President.

The attacks on Krauss are similarly thin.

Coel comments to Massimo:
I’m rapidly concluding that much of the disagreement on this blog comes from simply misinterpreting each other’s intent. ...

Conclusion: much apparent disagreement is instead miscommunication and recognising that would reduce unprofitable exchanges; different people’s positions are often closer to each other than it might appear.
That is a kind way of saying that the philosophers are preoccupied with straw man attacks. They do not address the actual written opinions of Krauss, Trump, or anyone else. They apply their mental prejudices based on a perception of which side of an ideological battle the man is.

Philosophers are not the only ones susceptible to this sort of thinking, of course. Lots of other ppl jump to conclusiiona based on how they imagine the intent of the speaker to be.

I was going to add a comment to Massimo's blog, but he has closed comments on Krauss.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

AI will be megalomaniacal

I disagreed with Lubos Motl about unification, and I also disagree with his view of AI:
So even if these machines achieve high intelligence, there's no reason to think that these machines will have megalomaniac goals! Unless someone "programs them" with the goal of doing something bad to the whole world – and in that case, the human-creator is the main entity who should be held accountable – the robots just won't get obsessed with megalomaniacal goals by themselves because they haven't gone through the evolution process that could train them to become power-thirsty or megalomaniacal.
Facebook today is a giant megalomaniacal AI system that has been programmed by a megalomaniac, Zuckerberg. Likewise with Google, Apple, and Amazon.
I must point out that leftists have been saying similar things for more than a century – especially the statement of the form "the free market must already surely fail in this new human activity, that one etc." – to defend the establishment of some form of communism or totalitarianism in a section of the human activity. They were always wrong. The free market doesn't break down when it's applied to newspapers, radios, TVs, videos, songs, books, computers, computer programs, telecommunication, mass transportation, water pipelines, and lots of other things. All the words they have ever claimed to be arguments were just illogical piles of nonsense and in all the sufficiently old disputes of this kind, the leftists have been proven wrong. There exists absolutely no reason to think that the case of the AI is any different.
When there are 100s of millions of customers, there are network effects that result in a winner-take-all economy.

When ppl complain about bias in Google searches or iphones killing popular features, the companies just imply that you are too stupid to know what you want.

Yes, I know that there are other search engines and phone makers. I use the alternatives myself.

The threat is that large integrated systems will have an intelligence of their own, and ppl will become dependent. Already there are drivers who cannot find where they are going unless they submit to dictatorial orders from Google. In the future, ppl may be submitting to orders on a wide range of matters. Maybe the robots won't get obsessed with megalomaniacal goals by themselves, but they will get megalomaniacal anyway.

Perhaps Motl would argue that market forces will result in programmers constraining the AI systems to be less megalomaniacal. Yes, Facebook would be worse if it were not for some occasional user protests. But in my opinion, it is pretty bad and is going to get worse.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Philosopher did not invent Trump

Filmmaker, and former Princeton philosophy of science grad student, Errol Morris clarifies:
You’re right, I find Kuhn revolting. But I hope I refrained from making a causal connection between The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the Trump travel ban or Kellyanne Conway’s alternative facts. ...

Was Kuhn merely an expression of a 60s/70s zeitgeist, one among many? Probably. The line that makes me a little queasy is “But I can’t blame Kuhn for Trump, as Morris does.” You suggest this is going too far, and I agree with you. If Kuhn had never lived, in that possible world where Kuhn was never born, there might still be a President Donald Trump. These are counterfactuals I’m not prepared to deal with. On the other hand, do I feel that Kuhn did the world any good by undermining the concept of truth? No, I don't. I’ll leave it to God to decide on the ultimate disposition of his soul. – Errol
Trump believes in "truthful hyperbole". Other politicians have a more lawyerly attitude towards truth.

Thomas Kuhn, aka Professor Paradigm Shift, was in an entirely different category. He denied that science was all about the pursuit of objective truths.

I previously posted:
Errol Morris is a famous filmmaker who is still mad at the late Philosophy professor Thomas Kuhn (aka Professor Paradigm Shift) throwing as ashtray at him and kicking him out of Princeton. ...

Morris thinks that Kuhn ruined the Philosophy of Science in the same way that I think that Einstein ruined Physics.
As with Einstein, the real problem with Kuhn lies in his followers. A whole generation of scholars took his work further, and used it to deny truth as we know it.