Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly, in the right order?

Monday, March 29

Rant

In A Pale Kombi*

The Five Ideologies of the Apocalypse:
Communism
Fascism
Environmentalism
Islamism
Post-Modernism
Fasten your seatbelts boys and girls, it's going to be a bumpy decade.

* Probably fried-out too.

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Tuesday, March 23

Rant

I'll Tell You Why

I was looking for examples of the portal system I'm planning to install at mu.nu, and I found one that was very clean and elegant. So I registered myself there, and started reading. A lot of posts repeating news from Slashdot, and one regarding the recent bombing in Spain.

And the question came:

Now when news and papers here in Europe are all full of this and millions protest against terrorism, it makes my blood pressure going to the sky. I wonder; how can journalists and politicians still be so stupid that all they can say is those same old phrases all over again? "We must fight against terrorism..." And people go to the street....

If only someone would be interested of what these "terrorist" want really??? A piece of land perhaps? Maybe individuality and respect as a human beeings? How difficult would that be arrange? Huh???

I know I'm probably just pissing into the wind, but I replied:
You ask what the terrorists want.

Well, they've stated their desires explicitly many times. You just have to listen to them.

They want Israel destroyed, and the Jews exterminated.
They want America destroyed.
They want the entire world to become an Islamic state.
They want to wipe out freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion.
They want to subjugate women, to turn them from human beings into chattels.

This is not supposition, this is what they have stated, specifically. This is what they do in their own societies.

Another 200 people have been murdered, and 1500 more injured, with the aim of imposing their views upon the world.

Why do they hate us?

They hate us because we have built a successful society, where theirs has failed. Because our women are independent citizens. Because we disagree with them.

They hate us for our freedom.

They say this themselves. Read any of the dispatches sent out by any of the terrorist groups. Listen to the sermons being given in mosques across the Islamic world.

In their view, we can convert to Islam, be enslaved, or die. They give us no other choices, but we can choose instead to fight.

I wonder how long that post will last there...

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Saturday, March 13

Rant

Not Scientist

These days, I get almost all of my news from the Net. The only print magazine I still read regularly is New Scientist. (I buy Newtype every month, but they just pile up in the corner...)

Most weeks New Scientist is a great reminder that we really are living in the 21st century. It regularly reports on research and findings, not to mention feats of engineering, that would have been world-shaking just twenty years ago. It's at its strongest reporting new findings in the hard sciences, particularly in under-reported fields like materials science, and at its weakest reporting on political issues.*

This week's issue has a special report on Parapsychology. This should be a case of dynamiting fish in a barrel. But both articles - The power of belief and Opposites detract - soft-peddle scientific argument and overstate the support for ESP.

In the first case, the writer is simply taking pains to be fair, reporting both sides as though they are equal, both acting in good faith. We've all seen that before, and know where it leads. The two sides aren't equal:

After years of rancour in which the sceptics and believers stood on opposite sides of the divide, it was agreed that the only way forward was to establish some mututally agreeable standards. Sceptics agreed to ditch their presumption of artefact or fraud whenever a positive result came in;
- Not that there was any such universal assumption -
in return, parapsychologists agreed to drop all forms of special pleading
- Which they instead took to new heights -
and concentrate on getting replicable results.
- Which attempt met with singular failure, and resulted in yet more special pleading. Here's a fine example:
As we pondered this paradox, we became cognizant of a number of subtler, less quantifiable factors that also might have had an inhibitory effect on the experiments, such as the laboratory ambience in which the experiments were being conducted. For example, during the period in which the FIDO data were being generated, we were distracted by the need to invest a major effort in preparing a rebuttal to an article critical of PEAR’s PRP program. Most of the issues raised therein were irrelevant, incorrect, or already had been dealt with comprehensively elsewhere, and had been shown to be inadequate to account for the observed effects. Notwithstanding, preparation of a systematic refutation deflected a disproportionate amount of attention from, and dampened the enthusiasm for, the experiments being carried out during that time. Beyond this, in order to forestall further such specious challenges, it led to the imposition of additional unnecessary constraints in the design of the subsequent distributive protocol. Although it is not possible to quantify the influence of such intangible factors, in the study of consciousness-related anomalies where unknown psychological factors appear to be at the heart of the phenomena under study, they cannot be dismissed casually. Neither can they be interpreted easily.
Those darn skeptics! Every time they ask their nasty questions, our experiments fail! It's all their fault!

That's from a paper by PEAR - the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Resarch group. Their papers are filled with special pleading - and also with evidence for poor experimental control, misuse of statistics, and truly lousy writing style.

The second piece, however, just goes for the big lie.

What's more, ESP experiments have been replicated and their results are as consistent as many medical trials. .... In short, by all the normal rules for assessing scientific evidence, the case for ESP has been made.
This utterly untrue.

Every ESP experiment that has produced positive results has, upon closer inspection, been shown to be seriously flawed. Except in the many cases where the researchers have refused to have their experimental design reviewed by a third party.

Every experiment that has been redone with tighter experimental controls has shown a marked reduction in the strength of the result. More often that not, positive findings disappear or are reduced below the level of statistical significance.

What does Robert Matthews, writer of Opposites detract, have to say?

Despite this relentless rejection of their work, parapsychologists such as those at the Koestler unit have ploughed on in search of clinching evidence they hope will convince the scientific community. Some believe it is a waste of time because the reality of ESP has now been been put beyond reasonable doubt. Sceptics agree it is fruitless, but on the grounds that since ESP cannot exist, all positive results must be spurious. [My italics.]
This is a deliberate distortion of the sceptical position.

Skeptics are skeptical of ESP for a number of reasons. First of all, it doesn't seem to happen. That is, if you look for examples of the paranormal in everday life, you never find a clear example, only slightly odd events and strange coincidences.**

Second, almost every effect claimed for ESP contradicts established scientific laws. Now, we call the laws of science that becuase they work. They work every time, without exception. The parapsychologists are claiming exception from those laws when no such exception has been found in any other field of study.

And finally, there is the chequered history of the field itself. Well, it's not chequered so much as solid black. Matthews:

Over and over again, reputable researchers have found strong evidence for the existence of ESP in tightly controlled experiments.
This is a lie.

The entire history of ESP research has been a study in bad experimental design. Parapsychologists simply do not follow the basic rules of eliminating outside influence in their experiments.

When experiments are redesigned properly, the effects disappear.

Every time.

And since this has been the case for decades, we have to come to another conclusion: Not only is there no good evidence for ESP, but there are no reputable researchers in the field. If they were reputable, they would by now be designing effective experiments.

They're not.

So either they are staggeringly incompetent, or they are frauds. Or a combination of the two. Matthews again:

More than any other scientific discipline [Hah!] parapsychology pushes the scientific process to its limits, and reveals where its faults lie. In particular, it has highlighted that, contrary to the insistence of many scientists, data alone can never settle this or any other issue.
The blame lies not with the scientific process, but with the way parapsychologists have misconstrued it and manipulated it to their own ends. If your experiments are not conducted properly, the data from those experiments will not support your case. It is not evidence of anything.

And if you conduct poorly controlled experiments for decades, real scientists will simply dismiss your efforts as worthless.

James Randi has a prize of a million dollars open to anyone who can demonstrate any paranormal effect. Quite a number of people have tried. None of them have even passed the preliminary tests, conducted informally and with much less rigorous controls than would be used by any serious experimenter.

And what do we see from those who fail?

Well, apart from the dowsers - who seem to be a friendly bunch, suffering from just a minor case of self-delusion (something that is hardly restricted to dowsers) - apart from them, we find special pleading. Either the test design - mutually agreed upon well in advance - was wrong, or their powers - guaranteed to work under the agreed conditions - would in fact not work under the agreed conditions - or it was all the fault of those darned skeptics.

I leave it to my readers to draw the parallels between these individuals, who never let a nasty fact impinge upon their worldview, with certain political groupings.

* The editors are, frankly, a bunch of commies.

** And a lot of anecdotes. I love anecdotes. I have a special container by my desk in which I store them.

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