Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Persuasive argument for space aliens

NY Magazine reports on an Israeli-American physicist pushing a new book:
In November 2017, an object passed by our planet that was unlike anything astronomers had ever seen. Spotted by a telescope in Hawaii, this strange thing was dubbed ‘Oumuamua. It moved too fast for it to have come from our solar system, its orbit was unusual, and it didn’t have any of the traditional markings of an asteroid or comet. All this led Dr. Avi Loeb to hypothesize that ‘Oumuamua was artificially made, perhaps a piece of technology or some debris from a faraway alien civilization. Before you discount Loeb, you should know that he isn’t the average UFO-spotting kook you might see on a rerun of Unsolved Mysteries. He’s an astrophysicist who has been teaching astronomy at Harvard since 1993, and chaired its astronomy department for nine years. In his new book, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, which comes out on January 26, Loeb makes a persuasive scientific argument about ‘Oumuamua’s otherworldly origins, and delves into why his peers have been so hostile to the idea of life outside of Earth.
No, it is not a persuasive scientific argument.

Remember the big story about the discovery of phosphine on Venus, as a sign of life? The discovery was not reproduced, and is probably bogus.

This belief in extraterrestial intelligent life is just another religious belief. Some people really want it to be true. It would validate their worldview somehow. I don't know why. It is one of many bizarre beliefs that are fashionable among academic physicists.

They are all atheists. They would never admit to believing in God, or Trumpism, or the soul. But tell some goofy story about a rock being sent to our solar system by space explorers from another planet, and they eat it up.

In interviews, Loeb aggressively argues that Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 for teaching about the logical necessity of human life on other planet, and that Bruno was right. No, Bruno was a nut, and he was convicted of religious heresy.

Some physicists are not content with dreaming up alien beings in this universe. They want others too. A new Quanta magazine article starts:

What lies beyond all we can see? The question may seem unanswerable. Nevertheless, some cosmologists have a response: Our universe is a swelling bubble. Outside it, more bubble universes exist, all immersed in an eternally expanding and energized sea — the multiverse.
Too bad these modern cosmologists cannot be put on trial for heresy.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Biden appoints new science advisor

SciAm op-ed:
Nominations that reflect America’s diversity of backgrounds and experiences should be the norm. That we are now celebrating so many firsts speaks to how far we still have to go to make society equitable and just.

Despite this slate of diverse leadership, we can’t help but notice that the recently announced nomination of presidential science adviser Eric Lander fails to meet the moment. His nomination does not fill us with hope that he will shepherd the kind of transformation in science we need if we are to ensure science delivers equity and justice for all. ...

Lander, an MIT geneticist and former co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) — exemplifies the status quo.

The complaint is that Lander is a white male. More precisely, he is a Jewish man. Most of Biden's important cabinet appointments have been to Jewish men.

BuzzFeed also trashes him:

Lander, then at MIT’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, first argued that Celera’s whole genome shotgun wouldn’t work, then allegedly tried to strike a deal to collaborate with Celera, and later resumed his attacks on the company when the two projects finally published the human genome sequence in February 2001. Lander claimed that Celera couldn’t have completed its sequence without using mapping information from the public project and told a Nature reporter that the whole genome shotgun had delivered a “tossed genome salad” rather than an accurate readout of the human genome.

Still, Lander quietly retooled his lab to adopt Celera’s whole genome shotgun method when tackling the mouse genome, which he and others published in 2002.

Lander’s attacks stung Venter, who later revealed that Celera staff referred to their nemesis as “Eric Slander.”

It also cites this opinion:
There is something mesmerizing about an evil genius at the height of their craft, and Eric Lander is an evil genius at the height of his craft. ...

This paper [on the history of Crispr] is the latest entry in Lander’s decades long assault on the truth. During his rise from math prodigy to economist to the de facto head of the public human genome project to member of Obama’s council of science advisors to director of the powerful Broad Institute, he has shown an unfortunate tendency to treat the truth as an obstacle that must be overcome on his way to global scientific domination.

I went to college with Lander, and I think he is a good guy. I have far more objection to Biden's other appointments.

The Trump administration was generally pro-science, without being shrill about it. So far, the Biden administration says that it is pro-science, but issued an executive order that seems to abolish girls sports on the theory that sex is a social construct. We shall see how things work out. Maybe Biden will advise Biden that there really are differences between men and women.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Physicist argues for Bayesian politics

Sean M. Carroll has a lengthy Mindscape podcast rant about the current American political situation.

His political views are just what you would expect. Typical leftist academic groupthink. I don't have much to say about that. But he claims to be driven by rational scientific thinking. He is essentially lecturing us on how a physicist should view President Trump.

The key is Bayesian analysis. The idea is to develop a healthy and enlightened set of prejudices, which he calls "priors", and then to accept or reject new evidence in the light of those priors.

As an example, he says you should think of allegations that the election was stolen in the same way that you treat the idea that the Moon is made of green cheese. That is, you should refuse to be distracted by evidence about cheese and ballots, and reject the whole thing out of hand as being too far contrary to the accepted worldview.

This is not rational thinking. The Trump allegations are summarized in the Navarro Report. You can read it, and then read a refutation. I cannot find any systematic refutation of the report. That tells me something. Some of the allegations are surely false.

It is possible to hold elections in a much more secure and reliable way. That was not done.

Carroll's soft-spoken demeanor and physics vocabulary give the illusion of reasonableness, but you have to remember that this is a guy who believes that we have no genuine free will, and that every time we appear to make a decision, we are actually witnessing a splitting of the universe into parallel worlds.

While he talks about probabilistic reasoning all the time, as should dominate any Bayesian analysis, his many-worlds view of physics involves extinguishing probability altogether.

If he made arguments this stupid, and then supported Trump, then physicists would start ostracizing him, and getting him banned from social media. But he supports the dominant Leftist agenda, so it's all good.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Why free will is beyond physics

Physics World:
Philip Ball argues that “free will” is not ruled out by physics – because it doesn’t stem from physics in the first place ...

If the claim that we never truly make choices is correct, then psychology, sociology and all studies of human behaviour are verging on pseudoscience. Efforts to understand our conduct would be null and void because the real reasons lie in the Big Bang. Neuropsychology would be nothing more than the enumeration of correlations: this action tends to happen at the same time as this pattern of brain activity, but there is no causal relation. Game theory is meaningless as no player is choosing their action because of particular rules, preferences or circumstances of the game. These “sciences” would be no better than studies of the paranormal: wild-goose chases after illusory phenomena. History becomes merely a matter of inventing irrelevant stories about why certain events happened.

I agree with this. If there is no free will, then even physics experiments are dubious because they usually assume from freedom to choose samples and draw statistical conclusions.

Denying free will is madness.

Evolutionist Jerry Coyne attacks Ball here and here, and claims that Physics has disproved free will.

If Physics had somehow disproved free will, then I ask, Where is the published paper with that demonstration? I want to see the assumptions, supporting data, and criticism from others.

There is no such paper, and no such demonstration.

Long-standing disputes about free will and physical law, with their philosophical jargon of compatibilism and libertarianism, have not really advanced our understanding of the problem of determinism since Pierre-Simon Laplace supposed in the early 19th century that he could predict the entire future from total microscopic knowledge of the present.
That's right. The issue is mostly philosophical.

Coyne responds:

Ball accepts the laws of physics as being the underlying basis of all phenomena, and so he is a naturalist (or a “physical determinist” if you will; I’ll simply use “determinism” to mean “naturalism”).
Philosophical arguments often play these games, where someone does some terminological substitutions, and pretends to have proved something.

Sure, I accept the laws of physics as underlying physical phenomena. That is a tautology. But from there Coyne leaps to naturalist, and then to determinist, and then to denier of free will.

Coyne's expertise is evolutionary biology:

Again I assert that, at bottom, the evolution of chimps was “dictated” by the laws of physics: the deterministic forces as well as the random ones, which could include mutations. (I’ve argued that the evolution of life could not have been predicted, even with perfect knowledge, after the Big Bang, given that some evolutionary phenomena, like mutations, may have a quantum component.)

But if Ball thinks biologists can figure out what “caused” the evolution of chimps, he’s on shaky ground. He has no idea, nor do we, what evolutionary forces gave rise to them, nor the specific mutations that had to arise for evolution to work. We don’t even know what “caused” the evolution of bipedal hominins, though we can make some guesses. We’re stuck here with plausibility arguments,

He is less confident about the physics, so he relies on "physicists like Sean Carroll and Brian Greene". They deny free will, and that is good enough for him.

Coyne makes it clear that he relies on Physics to deny free will:

Anthony Cashmore defines free will “as a belief that there is a component to biological behavior that is something more than the unavoidable consequences of the genetic and environmental history of the individual and the possible stochastic laws of nature”.  A simpler but roughly equivalent definition is this one: “If you could replay the tape of life, and go back to a moment of decision at which everything — every molecule — was in exactly the same position, you have free will if you could have decided differently — and that decision was up to you.”

If you pressed most people, you’d find that they agree with these definitions, though the second one is clearer to the layperson. These forms of “libertarian” free will are accepted by many, including of course, those religionists who believe that we are able to freely decide whether or not to accept Jesus or Mohamed as the correct prophet, and if you make the wrong choice, you’ll fry. Only a loony Christian would argue that God would still make you fry if a quantum movement in your neurons made you reject Jesus. No, your “decisions” have to be under your control.

At any rate, physics — naturalism — rules out this type of free will.

So where is the Physics in this argument? Yes, I do believe that I can freely choose Jesus or Mohammad, and that my flesh obeys the laws of nature. Those things seem self-evident. If Physics proves otherwise, I want to see the proof.

Update: Coyne posted a rant the next day on how scientists never rely on faith, as a religious believer would. I would like to agree, but there is no scientific evidence whatsoever for his free will opinions. He claims that they follow from the laws of physics, but he is really just acting on faith.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Dunning–Kruger effect

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a favorite of pseudo-intellectual leftists. Wikipedia defines it as:
a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from people's inability to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, people cannot objectively evaluate their level of competence. ...

Colloquially, people experiencing this bias are said to be "on Mount Stupid".

It is used to mock people all the time, without addressing the substance of what they say, such as:
Mr. X says Y, but he doesn't realize that he lacks the competence to say that. It is an example of the Dunning-Kuger effect. Ha, ha. He probably doesn't even know what the Dunning-Kruger effect is. Ha, ha, ha. People with his opinions never do. Ha, ha.
It turns out that it is the jerks who cite Dunning-Kruger who are the dummies, as the effect is bogus. This article explains that it is just a data artifact.

Suppose you measure something in two different ways, each with some error. Simple statistical considerations tell us that the extremes of one measurement are not likely to be so extreme in the other measurement. That was the main thing that Dunning and Kruger found.

In particular, they found that when someone does very well on a test, he often does better than he expected. And when he does poorly, it is often worse than he expected. Using some innumerate mumbo-jumbo, they expressed this as a profound result, as defined above.

Apparently mathematicians and statisticians have been aware for years that the effect is bogus, and yet it continues to be cited by academics, psychologists, social commentators, and even the NY Times anyway.

I know what you are thinking: Aren't the people who cite the Dunning-Kruger effect good examples of the effect? Ha, ha.

There are still examples of cognitive biases, and here is a long list. But citing Dunning-Kruger in lieu of a substantive argument is just a sign of ignorance.