Reboot

I haven’t written for a while. My grammar and style have gone to hell. For that I make no apologies.

I have decided to revive this blog just to write about what I’m up to, or what is interesting me, or whatever. It’s entirely possible I’ll post some political rants, though my politics have shifted and evolved somewhat since I was last writing.

The right still call me a socialist and the left still call me a neoliberal. I would say I’m in the centre, a liberal in the tradition of Bertrand Russell, with a lick of F.A. Hayek, and a liberal helping of Peter Singer’s Darwinian leftism. I still slightly grudgingly vote for the Australian Greens, as they represent the sanest voices in Australian politics.

So, to kick things off, I will lay out my current interests and doings.

– I am still formally studying, albeit part time. My degree in progress is a bachelor of science in psychology and psychophysiology. In practice, it focuses on experiment and neuroscience occupies much of the coursework. I’m studying one subject this semester – statistics. I dig the shit out of this degree. There isn’t much more to say about it, except that I’d rather we use R instead of SPSS.

– Informally, I have developed something of a passion for learning languages. If anyone remembers my posting a memoir about my fifth greatest grandfather, this probably isn’t particularly surprising. I have smatterings of various languages, many of which have probably degraded, but at my focus right now is Russian. I had been studying Russian consistently since October last year, however I was distracted in the last month and have barely kept up with it. My 1600+ card Anki deck is in limbo, and my Russian is not great. I still read a little and think about it each day, but it is a horse I need to get back on.

– I would like to get into cybersecurity, specifically penetration testing. I did a lengthy stint as a mobile application developer, and upon termination of that arrangement, I had been unable to find work since. Browsing oDesk, I came to suspect that my skill set in development could be had far more cheaply through outsourcing. Penetration testing, while hard as balls, seems to be different – outsourcing penetration testing would be an idiotic thing to do. And, pragmatism aside, hacking is a lot of fun – probably the most fun you can have in front of a computer with your pants on. The rush of getting root is unparalleled. I am by no means ready to work yet, but I do practice, and practice often.

– Philosophy. My Facebook discussion group “Analytic Philosophy” is going quite strong, and as of writing the total number of members is approaching 10,000. The standard is stellar and my team of administrators rocks. I’ve learnt a lot through lurking and interacting with the other members and I’ve even had some of my own ideas. I threw one out there and a prolific and brilliant humbled the shit out of me by encouraging me to develop it. Clearly, I would be mad to not pursue this. I won’t name said great philosopher just yet because I don’t want it to reflect badly on said philosopher if I’m not up to the task of making the idea work.

I could go on, but it’s late and by no means am I going to limit myself to what’s listed above. Let’s see how I go with returning to blogging. Ideally, these entries will be short and frequent, and they will cover a wide range of topics.

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Andrew Bolt: still an alarmist idiot

Just for old time’s sake, I’m going to quickly take apart Herald Sun hack Bolta’s most recent cry for help. It’s a blog entry entitled “Signs that warming scare is all hot air“. Easy shit.

Since most of today’s digitised sputum is typical quote-mining and astonishing inability to differentiate between what’s been peer reviewed and what’s been extemporaneously speculated (typical hack fair, basically), I’m just going to address each of Bolta’s Ten Seals of the Warmist Illuminati Conspiracy.

1st sign: The world isn’t warming

At least he begins by making it clear that his world is not the real one.

Anyway, yes, the world is warming. In science, we tend to use this thing called mathematics. To find trends in data, we use statistics. To find out if an average changes with the addition of new variables, we use a thing called a moving average. It’s a pretty rudimentary stuff, generally just involving a little data collection and arithmetic.

What Bolta is doing is picking a nice, hot year, and drawing a line to the most recent temperature. Apparently, in Bolta’s world, ENSO doesn’t exist and everything is linear. That’s because Bolta’s world doesn’t contain complicated things that you need to break out the calculator for.

Anyway, without boring you with statistics, here’s a lovely graphic that demonstrates beautifully why Bolta’s approach doesn’t work.

The escalator, courtesy of SKS.

The escalator, courtesy of SkS.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with not knowing how to do science; but there’s a lot wrong with pretending you do to push a political agenda.

2nd sign: The warming models are wrong

Seriously? Boring. Let’s unpack.

The weekend papers screamed alarm: “The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time in human history.”

But wait. Lots more carbon dioxide, but no more warming? This isn’t what we were told to expect.

My FSM, this is how you know that the Herald Sun is a piece of shit paper. See above.

See, predictions the world is heating dangerously are based on mathematical models of how the climate is meant to work. Add our emissions to the equation, and scientists are meant to figure how much the world should warm.

Bolta doesn’t like maths very much.

But as Professor Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told a US Congressional committee last month, those models guessed too high, and didn’t predict pauses in warming longer than 17 years.

Which models? There’s a lot of them. Let’s test this claim though. It makes sense, then, to check measurements against predictions made by some models, and then see if the predictions of any models match the real-world data we’re accumulating. That gets done all the time. Here’s a quote from one such study, from 2012:

“…the results strongly suggest that the more sensitive models perform better, and indeed the less sensitive models are not adequate in replicating vital aspects of today’s climate.”

Next! Oh shit, another paragraph from Bolt.

Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, found the global temperature since 2005 on the very lowest end of the widest range predicted by influential climate models.

…it was a bit more complicated than that. Nice try, though.

3rd sign: Warming disasters aren’t happening

Wat.

Ignoring the usual Tim Flannery quote-mine (apparently Tim Flannery is Bolta’s favourite climate expert), let’s move on to the specifics.

In 2001, the IPCC predicted “milder winter temperatures will decrease heavy snowstorms”.

Because science in 2001 in a burgeoning, complex field is still relevant today.

But the US National Snow and Ice Data Center this year tried to claim global warming had now increased snowstorms in the US.

The US isn’t the whole world. Warmer regions on the planet will get less, colder reasons will get more.

Same story with so many other scares. Al Gore was wrong – the critical glaciers of the Himalayas are not vanishing…

That’s not true.

Nor are we getting more cyclones, bigger floods, worse diseases or greater famines, as some predicted.

Bigger storms? Check. Bigger floods? Dude, you can’t do maths, let alone address something like this. Worse diseases? Check. Greater famines? Ask Somalia.

4th sign: People are relaxing

And that matters how?

5th sign: The rest of the world is chilling, too

Delusion and apathy are causes for celebration?

6th sign: Even Labor hardly seems to care now

 *facepalm*

7th sign: A bit of warming seems good for us

 Just no. Idiot.

But more warming also means more rain in most places,

And rain totally has nothing to do with flooding, hey.

8th sign: Warming seems worth the price of getting richer

 …yes, this is progress.

9th sign: “Stopping” warming isn’t working

Emissions have dropped.

Australians pay a $9 billion-a-year carbon tax and billions more in subsidies for “green” technology.

We also pay for fossil fuel subsidies. Yes, the plan sucks, but the carbon tax is working.

If we keep paying these billions for the next seven years, what difference will we make to the world’s temperature by the end of the century?

Australia’s Professor Roger Jones, a warmist, says no more than 0.0038 degrees, and that’s even assuming the climate models are right.

Which models? And yeah, the tax needs to be fixed. We also need to tax the living shit out of what we export. But this isn’t the point. The point is one of the most stable economies in the world setting an example for the rest of the world.

10th sign: Sceptical scientists now get a hearing

 Denier scientists always get airtime. Fox News, anyone? The Bolt Report?

In 2007, ABC staff protested when the ABC decided to finally show one documentary questioning the warming scare, The Great Global Warming Swindle.

The ABC compromised. The screening was given a hostile introduction and was followed with an even more hostile panel session.

Umm, well, it was a fine example of bare-faced bullshit artistry.

That’s how hard it was for sceptical scientists to get a hearing.

Boo-hoo. He’s right y’all. We should so listen to creationists and anti-vaxxers too.

That wall is now breaking. Dissent is being heard, with Professor Ian Plimer’s sceptical Heaven and Earth alone selling more than 40,000 copies here.

Anyone who has ever waved one at you might profit from reading this.

But, no, this great scare is unforgivable. It’s robbed us of cash and, worse, our reason.

Andrew, you’re so right. The alarmist campaign you and your friends are running is unforgivable. It has robbed us of our cash, and it actively wages war on our reason.

Go fuck yourself.

Guns and mental illness again

I have to clarify this, because it’s a point that screams out for repeating.

Why do people’s minds get blown, or why do I get flat-out denial, when I point to studies showing that mental illness isn’t even correlated with violent criminal behaviour?

The only scary correlation here is that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violent crime.

If you want good reasons for immediate, massive funding of public mental health programs, I can give you a half dozen off the top of my head.

Preventing violent crime isn’t one of them.

That’s why the motivation for thia sudden support for universal healthcare by Republican gun nuts annoys the living shit out of me.

Pointing to this fabricated correlation extrapolated from a handful of cases as a good reason to fund mental health is just wrong (and anti-scientific). It’s predictably fucked up when the far right do it, but it’s utterly perverse when the left follow along like sheep.

Stigmatisation comes from false stereotypes like this.

To push it is to hurt the mentally ill and to buy into the NRA agenda. It distracts from the real problem of gun culture and the need for the United States to properly regulate firearms.

Gun ownership is actually correlated with violent crime; and a causal relationship isn’t difficult to establish. If you’re serious about stopping violent crime, tackling gun ownership should be the focus.

A cry I’ve anticipated, but thankfully haven’t yet heard, from the left (who accept the evidence) is that any delusion that brings the far right to the table on universal healthcare is OK, as long as it gets the job done.

I don’t think it’s worth throwing the dignity of the mentally ill under a bus for a deal.

It’s hard enough seeing a psychiatrist for the first time without everyone else assuming that you’re a danger to society.

Look at the evidence and think things through, please.

What the fuck is wrong with you people?

I’m sure you’ve all seen all the repugnant things religious leader fuckheads have said in the last few days. I’m not going to comment on that because it makes me feel ill.

This post has three sections.

Gun Control

Seriously, the sheer number of American pathological gun nuts I’ve dealt with online in the last two days is staggering.

I’m finding exactly the same problems I have with religion, especially when religion is driving good people to kill and giving bad people an excuse to kill (and an excuse to get good people to kill). It’s a faith-based claim that offers no rationale except for bullshit cliched arguments that have clearly not been critically examined by someone who cares about anything other than feeding on confirmation bias.

So my problem is faith. I just typically go after religion because it’s the largest and most prevalent manifestation of this defective way of thinking; and so it just happens to piss me off more often.

But now I find myself forced to go after the American gun cult.

Something about children being killed with legal weapons just makes me fucking mad, you know? There’s also something about the callous self-justifications from trigger-happy traditionalist idiots, while families are mourning, that just begs to be called out.

So here it is.

America’s gun laws fail so hard at preventing homicides, robberies, accidental shootings and suicides according to evidence from peer-reviewed literature (not reports from “think-tanks” and other bullshit sources); but that doesn’t matter. The solution is moar guns! It’s a Second Amendment right!

Yes, more guns is exactly what America needs.

Here, by the way, is the Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Hmm.

The Second Amendment argument is stupid, and clearly nobody has read it — if it were still relevant it’d imply that citizens should be allowed access to nuclear weapons. Besides, interpreting the Second Amendment on an individual protection level is problematic and unsophisticated.

Then times changed, democracy got better (fine, it’s actually a polyarchy, but whatever) — making revolution less meaningful. Also, civilisation is qualitatively different now than it was at any other point in history.

Violence, all over the world, is in decline (help speed it along!), and liberalisation is rising, despite some other depressing statistics (I’ll get to them). The revolution in the United States will not be televised, because it won’t happen; it’s little more than another American Dream.

Second, guns for personal protection? Bullshit.

I looked through a bunch of my university library’s research databases and all I came up with, from reputable psychological and medical journals, was strong evidence that legally owned guns for self-defence are rarely used for self-defence; they’re more likely (22 times!) to be used in homicides, accidental deaths, suicides and to intimidate family members. This general trend of this study has been corroborated by numerous others.

(In light of those studies, which, most charitably, paint private gun-packers as highly incompetent and dangerous people, rather than autonomous agents capable of defending themselves; would a militia comprised of these people really capable of overthrowing a hypothetical tyrannical government? That might be a little too much to expect…)

Here are two charts that should hit this crime rate point home:

Number of guns per 100 people, OECD

Interesting, because “Switzerland” I hear a lot. I guess nobody bothered to look up how that actually works.

Gun-related murder rates in the developed world.

That’s another bullshit claim I hear: “What about Mexico? That’s what gun restrictions on law-abiding citizens does to reduce crime!” Yes, what about Mexico? Where do Mexican cartels get their guns from?

A more in-depth analysis can be found here. I guess facts really do have a progressive bias.

The cost-benefit analysis, if you care about protecting people, just doesn’t justify guns for personal protection.

Some might be tempted to use this against me when I advocate full drug-legalisation. They’d be wrong. Drugs are an individual choice, and you can’t use drugs to kill lots of people, only yourself (if you’re so inclined, or if you’re an irresponsible user, or by accident — but then, mountain climbing can kill you in that way). Drugs should be illegal in situations where they can play some causal role in harming others: like when you’re driving. If you drug-and-drive, fuck you. You’re a criminal because you put others at risk.

(Incidentally, in some U.S. states, car licenses are more heavily regulated than gun ownership.)

So, being a rabid supporter of “the right to bear arms” is to buy into a bullshit faith-based enterprise, with its own mythology and various off-shoot sects. The fact that it’s about providing false-consolation and a false sense security and the fact that it’s totally contrary to the evidence makes it exactly like religion.

And, on exactness: this is exactly why I go after religion. Religion is based on faith, which is essentially pretending to know things you don’t know. Appeals to faith are used to justify tribalism, delusion and all manner of bullshit. When someone says “that’s what I believe” you’re supposed to avoid being disrespectful. Fuck that I say.

People can be wrong, and there’s nothing wrong with exercising your own free speech to hold them to account. And making light of the majority hard-headed among them in front of fence-sitters.

So fuck those idiots against gun control. There is blood on their hands.

Mental Health

This is important to me.

I have lived with bipolar disorder since my early teenage years and I’m now in recovery.

I’ve never shot anyone, but I’ve faced discrimination in personal, professional and schooling situations due to the stigma associated with mental illness.

I don’t care about it, personally, because I’ve been lucky; it hasn’t ever really gotten in my way. But discrimination affects others badly. Really fucking badly. And I totally understand why.

The mentally ill don’t need to be singled out based on the actions of criminals. It’s offensive to do so, and it doesn’t even make sense.

The amount of demonisation I’ve seen the mentally ill as a group subjected to — surreptitiously by the hard right (because it wasn’t guns!) and inadvertently hiding in articles in the PC left media (smacked down here) — since this recent mass murder in the United States is mind-boggling.

It’s quite simple: the United States has worse healthcare than some developing countries (Columbia!); but look at these fucking statistics. Now, what should the priority be following Friday’s Connecticut shooting? It’s pretty fucking obvious to me.

To start with: to demonise people with autism spectrum disorders is to demonstrate a profound ignorance of established facts about abnormal human psychology.

Second; what effect does mental illness have on crime? The first clear-cut example is psychopathy; but does psychopathy predict criminal behaviour? A bit of arithmetic carried out on Baylor College’s neurolaw-focused blog, using some estimates and some quantified statistics indicated that 15% of all psychopaths currently living in the United States are incarcerated for some crime or another. Would increased mental health funding, and more accessible high-quality treatment help these rates? No. Psychopathy is untreatable, and very difficult to diagnose.

What about the mentally ill population as a whole? That’s a point of contention too, and it shouldn’t be, because there are more of these things called facts — and they’re in. The mentally ill, as a population, are overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Check this in the peer-reviewed literature for yourself, and look through other articles.

This is the crux of my argument: if the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators of violence, then taking measures to reduce violence also protects the mentally ill. Tackling gun violence is a step towards protecting the mentally ill, and a step towards protecting everyone else.

Better healthcare is an absolute imperative. There are some shocking stats associated with mental illness in the United States. The one I find scariest is that only one-third of adults and one-half of children with diagnosable mental illnesses actually get to talk to a professional in any meaningful capacity.

Clearly, mental health services in the United States need to be fixed, and they need to be fixed soon; but right now, a scourge that infects American culture as a whole must be fixed. This is gun culture.

This is a hard calculation to make with objectivity, but right now, America’s progressives and concerned conservatives should try to rewrite the gun laws.

Now is the time. This isn’t an either-or thing; it should be a both thing — but smart progressives should not lose sight of the myopia of their fellow countrymen.

Help everyone first: fix your fucking gun culture.

Ethics

Now, you could say that who am I, an Australian descended from undesirable colonisers (I’m not, but that’s what I was told) — to derive morals from facts (as Hume supposedly prohibited) and moreover, how dare I use my moral standards to judge another country’s laws and culture?

Because fuck you. If ethics aren’t about minimising suffering and maximising flourishing for all conscious creatures, then ethics is a waste of everyone’s time — and anyone who believes that has no grounds to support any moral cause, or to judge the behaviours of others. That’s why.

Why should we be interested in minimising suffering and maximising harm? Well, would you apply the same standard to medical research? How about physics? No. I didn’t fucking think so. So why do people hate it when you try to come up with a normative system of ethics? Out of respect for unjustified, unsubstantiated bullshit faith-based opinions.

Also, you didn’t read Hume properly. He used inference to the best explanation (induction) all the time, despite pointing out a “problem with induction” (that modern epistemology and philosophy of science has easily accommodated in the form of evidentialism; even verificationism), and he was an empiricist. He’d be fine with physics and medicine; and if he knew about consequentialism, he’d be fine with that too. (The problems in that BBC link have largely been resolved, it just covers naive consequentialism really, but you can find that shit out yourself. Go read some Peter Singer and even Sam Harris — neither of whom I totally agree with — and make up your own mind.)

My thoughts go out to all the families who lost loved ones last Friday. If children, a teacher and a psychologist being murdered in cold blood with legal weapons isn’t a wakeup call for America, there’s something wrong with the American leadership, and by extension, the people who elected those leaders.

Disagree?

Before you tell me, read what I wrote. Read it again. Check my sources. I don’t like repeating myself. I will approve your comments (I do that anyway), but only to enshrine you as a dunce.

Fractal wrongness

I wish to cast this image into the aether of the net.

Fractal Wrongness

You are not just wrong; you are recursively wrong. The wrongness of every possible iteration of any of your arguments is self-similar with the wrongness of your entire worldview.

This image is adapted from the demotivator poster described on RationalWiki. The caption offered there says: “You are not just wrong. You are wrong at every conceivable level of resolution. Zooming in on any part of your worldview finds beliefs exactly as wrong as your entire worldview.

The sentiment expressed is clever, but I found the caption unwieldy, unlettered and technically incorrect. Fractals are resolution-independent. They scale indefinitely.

Awesome is genetically modified

I’ve long promised friends to write up my views on genetic engineering. This is the CliffsNotes version. I’ll write something more detailed over summer.

I support the shit out of genetic engineering, and the consumption of genetically modified foods. I dabble in it and I love it where it’s going. I love that today, genetic engineering techniques are orders of magnitude more precise than accepted plant breeding and various mutagenesis techniques.

It’s obviously quite safe. Most food isn’t tested in clinical trials, but genetically modified organisms are tested extensively before being released into the market. Even industry testing is a huge leap from no testing at all. According to various respected independent scientific organisations: in 20 years of testing, by over 500 independent groups, not fucking once in well designed studies has genetically modified food currently on the market been associated with human illness.

I don’t love Monsanto. I don’t love the regulatory environment that ensures that only rich multinationals like Monsanto get to dominate the biotechnology sector. The draconian bureaucracy that chokes biotechnology, largely influenced by manufactured public opposition courtesy of scientifically illiterate moonbat cults like Greenpeace, sets a financially insurmountable hurdle that prevents small, low budget startups (like what I’d love to do to fund my neuroscience education), humanitarian efforts and open source-friendly independent researchers from competing with Big Biotech.

Another obvious problem is the broken patent system. I’m in two minds about it: first, there clearly needs to be restrictions on patenting open source genomes minimally altered with open access sequences available from websites like the Standard Registry of Biological Parts (henceforth just “Parts Registry”); and second, in the case of novel or sophisticated genomes, patenting is probably OK. But patenting should not restrict independent testing. Perhaps firms should be required to donate batches of seeds to registered labs for analysis.

That said, I’m not sure if I believe in compulsory large-scale testing. Very few “synthetic” foods not derived from GMOs are tested at all if they contain no known toxic or illegal compounds. I don’t see much difference between worrying about any unknown chemical reactions between various compounds and those of various sequences of genes. The mere existence of Parts Registry speaks to the precision offered by genetic engineering.

Even the gene gun, criticised for its relative inaccuracy, has been consigned to near-obsolescence due to various high-precision competing technologies (at least, in agricultural biotechnology, it’s still used in human gene therapy with great success).

Such precision for inserting sequences isn’t always necessary to achieve predictable outcomes: recombinant methods offered by viral vectors for gene therapy and even “cruder” methods such as electroporation get the job done.

What people often fail to realise when they go after Monsanto by parroting made up bullshit about genetically modified organisms is that a more open market (though, not totally “free”) conducive to open source and small companies is profoundly anti-corporate. Forget Monsanto, DIY biohacking even has the power to take on Big Pharma, and, by extension, Big Quacka.

It’s taken for granted that conventional agriculture isn’t going to feed 9 billion people. The organic vs. GMO debate, perpetuated by Big Quacka, is fucking stupid. Organic food, generally, offers lower yields for obscene land use. Economical land use is very important, because any land used by humans encroaches on fragile ecosystems. This is why it makes no sense to inadvertently expand farming and explicitly decry cities as taking us away from nature. We need to take up less space if we want to allow ecosystems to thrive.

Organic food may very well play a role in feeding the world, but the ever-advancing field of genetic engineering offers a much better shot. Crops can be tailored for climates, even to withstand levels of city pollution (though I expect that to drop dramatically, if we survive) and to thrive and usher in a revolution of indoor vertical farming. This will combat projected rising food prices (due to global warming and other factors) and make it possible to grow crops where it’s not feasible to do so using other methods. Such efforts are being spearheaded by not-for-profit organisations such as the Mexican International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.

I hope it’s clear why I frequently call out so-called environmentalists who oppose genetic engineering. Not only do they slow progress in a field that offers novel, powerful solutions to climate change, land use, and so on, but they also work against humanitarian efforts aimed at ameliorating poverty. The most stark, recent example of this is the backlash against golden rice, a theoretically sound and repeatedly proven solution to rampant vitamin A deficiency in third world and developing countries. One can’t help but wonder how many children have died from malnutrition while golden rice, nutrient-enriched cassava and other publicly developed crops remain under lock and key, thanks again to elitist middle class Westerners who really have no excuse for such scientific illiteracy.

Those who have been taken in by denialist literature such as the non-peer-reviewed report/Gish Gallop by EarthOpenSource (Google it, you’ll find it) are invited to read this better document by the European Commission. People concerned with data from long-term animal feeding studies should read this paper (without shooting the messenger, which is too often a convenient excuse for intellectual laziness). And people who thought that Gilles-Eric Séralini found evidence that GMOs cause enormous tumours in rats should look at this (heavy lifting) and/or this. Spoiler alert: his study looks an awful lot like scientific fraud.

(Originally posted as “On genetically engineered food” on my tumblr blog Just Defiance.)