Saturday, May 31, 2008

Refresher:Rules for Good Science

I've thought a lot about science lately. Probably due to the fact that I taught an undergraduate course in psychology.

While teaching the class, I was confronted with an array of students with various beliefs about the world. I finally understood what Mr. Scopes must have felt when he taught evolution to his students.

In my life, the rules of science have been rather useful tools for wading through all the much and mire we humans often willingly saddle ourselves with.

So without further adieu, I give you some of the basic rules for science:

1. Parsimony - aka "Occam's Razor", when confronted with two or more competing explanations, choose the simpler explanation. Example: If someone is peeking into your daughter's bedroom window and they look like an alien, chances are they are a person and your perception is off.

2. Falsifiability - aka "testability", if your theory or belief cannot be falsified, then it isn't testable. If a notion isn't testable, then it's nothing more than faith.

3. Provisionality - aka "No final answers", Scientific theories must be open to change otherwise they are dogma. Knowledge grows and changes so our ideas about the world must grow and change too.

These are just a few rules of science. I've found them to be quite useful at eliminating B.S. from my life. You should try them at home, with the loved ones.

Why Occam's Razor is so important

Live Science provides a story about how gullible the media is.

A man claimed to have video of an alien doing a peeping tom routine with his daughter.

Now, this requires certain assumptions---assumptions that Occam's Razor would eliminate if the media actually did their jobs an used a skeptical eye.

1. His daughter must be worth looking at. Of course he thinks so, but he's a parent.

2. Aliens would expend all their technological skill to travel across the galaxy to just peep in windows.

3. Aliens are actually present on the planet.

These three assumptions don't hold water, but are necessary if we are to believe this whack job's claims.

Until someone provides some really good video of an alien I won't believe it.

Until someone other than the town weirdo is the source I won't believe it either.

Until someone who starts out skeptical and looks for every explanation OTHER than the alien explanation first, then I won't believe it.

Occam's Razor serves a very useful role. It cuts out a lot of bullshit from a lot of morons.

Adults no better than tweakers when it comes to exploiting children

Slate has a story about how adults are legally running up charges on their kids' credit.

I had a client whose husband got credit cards in his infant son's name so that he could use the credit cards for cash advances to buy meth. We look on in horror when things like this happen.

Why is it that we don't view it with the same horror and shock when our politicians offer us the same deal (to make our children pay for our excesses), but in a legal fashion?

We don't because we are self-centered and really don't give a crap.

It's all about me....isn't it?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Baby boomers have created the current mess, but blame everyone but themselves

Here's a baby boomer placing blame for our current economic mess squarely on the shoulders of those who've caused it--Baby Boomers.

Pretty good, but here's the downside: How are things going to change?

The boomers will just run things into the ground then blame the subsequent generations for the problems. That's the boomer way" Blame the victims.

Low interest in science spells decline for U.S.

Scientists warn that the U.S. is losing its edge due to a loss of interest in science.

Science has taken a backseat to politics. Anti-intellectualism has been on the rise for years. Schools are trying their darndest to include creationism in their curricula.

There's no wonder children are confused and avoid science.

I remember biology in high school. No mention of the word evolution. Of course, my teacher was a strong Baptist and I attended a private school.

It wasn't until I got to college that I learned of evolution. I had plenty of catching up to do otherwise I would have looked stupid.

All this because someone wanted to further their religious agenda at my expense.

Dianne Odell passes away.

CNN reports on the death of a courageous woman, Dianne Odell, who lived her life in an iron lung.

I met Dianne a few years ago and found her to be charming and actually quite unaffected by her situation.

Our thoughts are with her family.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fuel protests may fuel paradigm shift in energy

Washington Post presents a story of things to come.

Europeans are beginning to protest over high fuel prices.

News flash: This is what happens when an oligopoly (OPEC) sees the end of its reign. They will jack prices to gather as much profit as possible and to flex what muscle they have remaining before their decline.

What seems like a bad thing now (high fuel prices) will actually benefit us all in the long run. It will encourage exploration of alternative fuel sources and the development of new technologies that reduce or eliminate our dependence on oil.

It's coming faster as a result of such actions.

Liberal Leaning MSNBC getting abused.

Washington Post has a story about MSNBC.

MSNBC is getting criticism for being "left-leaning."

I don't know about you, but "left-leaning" is a far cry from out and out right-wing, like FOX News.

Fox makes no apology for being right wing, advocating the position that all media is liberal, thus they have a duty to "balance" things out by going the opposite direction.

I have yet to see any credible evidence, aside from anecdotal or truistic, that the media is liberal. I think it really a shibboleth used by the right to identify like-minded types.

Furthermore, by claiming a liberal media they always have a scape-goat for losing elections or a ready excuse when they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar. I really see no way to falsify the assertion of a "liberal" media, so it has no real weight in my book.

Funny stuff.

Intellectual work doesn't always look like work.

Chronicle Careers has a very good article about what it looks like to do intellectual work.

As a sort of intellectual myself, having trained in and having worked in the field of law, where much intellectual work goes on, I can tell you this:

Most people would look at me and think that I'm doing nothing. Being reared in a family that regards activity of some sort as the measure of work has made my life difficult at times.

Frequently, I've been accused of being lazy or worse yet, available to assist with whatever task needs attending to, when I've actually been involved in some intellectual work.

It's not uncommon for those around me to accuse me of slacking off when I've actually been heavily engaged in important intellectual pursuits. Somehow, the anti-intellectualism common to the South encourages disdain for eggheads.

Too bad. I've weathered the criticisms.

Too often I find my intellectual work de-valued. No more.

Bankruptcy on the rise, despite changes made in 2005

Washington Post offers up a slice of life in the current economy.

Bankruptcy is not the best alternative, but is a pressure release valve that helps normalize inequities in the marketplace.

Bankruptcy would be unnecessary if everyone operated with the same information and financial upheavals, like medical issues and job loss were somehow normalized.

In our current economy, with its heavy emphasis on "free markets" there will be ups and downs that occur because of informational disadvantages in the vast majority of the populace and unpredictable life-changing events. That's the price we pay for our "free markets."

Bankruptcy evolved the soften out the extremes of our system.

No one likes bankruptcy, but it's a necessary feature of our type of economy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Robot walks like a human

Here's a fascinating development int he world of robotics.

It's a video on LiveScience, so be patient with the advert.

A scientist has managed to create a robot that walks like a human.

That may not seem too astonishing considering how easy it is for us, but walking is really very complex. It took us millions of years to get it right.

The article makes the valid point that human walking is really like falling forward in a controlled fashion. We use gravity to help us along and that's why our walking is very efficient.

This robotic work takes us one step closer to robots that can tool around like people.

I've always wanted my very own C3 PO.

Medical Science Re-growing body parts

Some cool work is occurring with regenerative medicine.

CNN reports about a soldier who lost a finger in Iraq. Doctors are applying growth factors to re-grow his finger.

It will be awesome when body parts can just be re-grown. It will put the prosthetics industry out of business, but that will be a good thing.

This is why I like science. It helps make our lives better.