Field of Science

Finger lengths predict stockbrokers' success

ResearchBlogging.orgFinger lengths can predict not only how good an athlete you can become, but also how well you can do as a financial trader. Why? Because high levels of androgens determine not only digit length but also success in the world of sports as well as finance.

The lower the ratio is between the length of your second digit to the length of your fourth digit(i.e. index to ring), the more successful people are in highly competitive sports, such as soccer (i.e. football), rugby, basketball, and skiing.

The reasons for this strange correlation is suggested to be that prenatal androgenic steroids affect brain development in a way that the brain becomes more sensitive to the activational effects of testosterone. This may lead to increased confidence, higher risk taking, search persistence, and heightened vigilance and faster reaction times. All important things in some sports... and now also in financial trading, as has been shown in this study by researchers at Cambridge, UK. Because androgens also make the ring finger longer than the index finger, this ratio of finger lengths can thus be used to predict success among athletes and stockbrokers.

Care must always be taken to get the causal relationship correct, though in this case it doesn't take much to see that it goes like this (solid lines):

The researchers compared profit and loss (P&L) of 49 traders taken from the trading floor in the City of London, at which only three out of about 200 traders are female. P&L was used as the measure for how well the traders did compared to each other, and the 2D:4D (second-digit to fourth-digit ratio) as a proxy for prenatal exposure to androgen.

As we can see, the higher the P&L is (meaning higher profits), the lower digit ratio, meaning that the ring finger is longer compared to the index.

Digit growth and gonadal development are both affected by Hox genes, which is why there is a developmental link between the two. Shortening of digits and defects in the urogenital tract are both caused to loss of Hox function (HOXA13).

Word of caution. These findings are to be taken as general trends to which there are many exceptions, of course. We are talking on average. If you don't have a long ring finger, you may still be great at sports and trading stocks, of course, and vice versa. The authors of the study suggest an even split between contributions of biology and experience (i.e. nature vs. nurture) in explaining long-term success of traders.

On Wikipedia I learned that
Androgen is the generic term for any natural or synthetic compound, usually a steroid hormone, that stimulates or controls the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics in vertebrates by binding to androgen receptors. (...) The primary and most well-known androgen is testosterone.
Why do I mention that? Because testosterone is of course better known as the principal male sex hormone. Recall that most traders are men, so since trading is a highly competitive high-stress line of work, men generally do better at it. One could then argue that this is culturally based, and that might be the case if women in that profession are frowned upon, or if parents (knowingly or not) encourage only their boys to become traders, etc.

However, this study suggests that in occupations that require high risk-taking and quick reactions, such as the one studied, are better suited for people who were exposed to more testosterone in the womb. Men. This is in opposition to other kinds of trading where the approach to the market is more analytical and long-term. Here a higher and more "feminine" digit ratio have previously been found to be dominant.

J. M. Coates, M. Gurnell, A. Rustichini (2009). Second-to-fourth digit ratio predicts success among high-frequency financial traders Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (2), 623-628 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810907106

Giraffe-sized pterosaur flew?

I must admit I have trouble seeing a pterosaur the size of a giraffe taking off the ground. That would be a truly amazing sight. I'm skeptical, but hoping to be convinced.

From Random Samples in Science, Volume 323, Number 5912, Issue of 16 January 2009.

Obama's first law aims at ending discrimination

The first law Obama signs as President is the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which expands the time workers can sue their employers over discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, or religion.

Lilly Ledbetter discovered after years as a manager at Goodyear Tire & Rubber that she was being paid less than her male counterparts. She filed suit and won a jury verdict in 2003. But the lawsuit was deemed invalid because it wasn't filed within six months of when the discrimination began.

The fact that any employees are being paid less than colleagues in the same job based on gender, race, nationality, or religion is reprehensible, and if this law can help people in such situations sue, then I welcome it. Ledbetter being paid less than her male counterparts is unfathomable, and I have wished hard that it was still not occurring in this day and age.

On the other hand, Obama also states that it is wrong that women are generally paid less than men:
"While this bill bears her name, Lilly knows this story isn't just about her," Obama said. "It's the story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn -- women of color even less --which means that today, in the year 2009, countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime."
As far as I understand, this huge difference is not measured between people in the same job, but is a figure of how much all men earn nationwide compared to how much women earn. Unless we expect men and women to have the same jobs, work the same amount of hours per week, take the same amount of time off to have children, and overall work the same number of years in their lives, then it may not be true that "countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime," as Obama said.

At this point I have no doubts that there is wage-discrimination going on still in the United States. That's a disgrace. But I do not think that all of the 22% difference in earnings between men and women can be explained this way. There are plenty of other reasons why men and women would have different jobs, and this will naturally result in different earnings on average.

I will not justify that people are being paid differently in the same jobs, but I would like to be able to explain why men and women overall aren't earning the same amount. Is it rampant discrimination going on on a daily basis? Is it partly because men and women have different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses? How large part of these gender differences can be attributed to nature and how much to nurture? Does our culture make boys want different jobs than girls, and how much does this influence the end result of life-time earnings? Is the life-time earning the best measure of success in life, or should we - when talking about salaries - include other benefits and other laws that governs what our rights and responsibilities are, such as alimony, child-support, and visitation rights?

I have many questions but (next to) no answers.

Pleiotropy the game

This is the official page for Pleiotropy the game.

Pleiotropy the game can be found at Kongregate.


Move: Left and right arrow-keys.

Objective: Catch the beneficial mutations (green) to increase your score while avoiding the deleterious mutations (red). Neutral mutations (gray) don't make any difference. There are about twice as many deleterious as beneficial mutations.

Pleiotropy: When you accrue a certain amount of points your level of pleiotropy increases, and your cup increase in size. This makes it easier to catch more beneficial mutations, but harder to avoid the deleterious mutations. The level of pleiotropy will not decrease even when your score decreases.

End: The game ends only when your score reaches 0.

High scores: Since we didn't create a database with high-scores, you can post a comment here with your maximum pleiotropy level. We trust you to be honest.


Pleiotropy comes from the Greek πλείων pleion, meaning "more", and τρέπειν trepein, meaning "to turn, to convert". It designates the occurrence of a single gene affecting multiple traits. A mutation may have a beneficial (advantageous) effect on one trait while also a deleterious (disadvantageous) effect on another.

Here you are playing a whole lineage (a species) that reproduces with mutations as time goes on. The effect of the mutations is to make the organisms more complex, resulting in increased pleiotropy.

In evolution there is no time when the "game" ends, except when a lineage goes extinct. Similarly, pleiotropy the game only ends when you give up, stop moving, and your score goes to 0.


Code: Arend Hintze
Idea: Bjørn Østman

Eat worms and train your immune system

Argh! Exclamation marks.

Here's an article in the New York Times marred by a false statement about evolution:
Since all instinctive behaviors have an evolutionary advantage or they would not have been retained for millions of years, chances are that this one too has helped us survive as a species.
There are plenty of reason why not every trait need to ever have been advantageous. Pleiotropic constraints is one that comes to mind. I wonder if there is anyone who have evidence that this should be different for behavioral traits.

The article, Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good for You, is actually quite intriguing, though. The gist of it is that the immune system needs to be trained and kept busy by the environment that it evolved to cope with, so eating worms is a great idea. Babies know this instinctively, which is why they eat dirt at the playground. My kids must have an excellent immune system, then. This theory better be correct.
Dr. Weinstock goes even further. “Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat,” he said. He and Dr. Elliott pointed out that children who grow up on farms and are frequently exposed to worms and other organisms from farm animals are much less likely to develop allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Also helpful, he said, is to “let kids have two dogs and a cat,” which will expose them to intestinal worms that can promote a healthy immune system.
I do wonder, though, if the behavioral trait of eating dirt is adaptive, then why is the behavioral trait of parents to stop them from doing so adaptive, given that "all instinctive behaviors have an evolutionary advantage?"

Pleiotropy and constraints

Here's a nice video about pleiotropic cameltoes constraints in evolution.

Note that the definition of epistasis and pleiotropy should look like this:

Epistasis: Two or more genes affecting the same trait.
Pleiotropy: One gene affecting more than one trait.

Another great example of a pleiotropic constraint is the hedgehog gene in blind cavefish governing both jaw and eye development, which I mention at the end of this post about the evolution of complexity.

Contact with hobbits simplified languages?

ResearchBlogging.orgJohn McWhorter, formerly a professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley, now at Manhattan Institute, wrote a short essay in 2005 for Edge in answer to the question of what he believes but cannot prove. What he knows is that a language only simplifies when the population that speaks it comes into contact with another population that does not. What he believes is that in the case of a small group of Indonesian languages this happened when humans came into contact with with Homo floresiensis.

In 2008 McWhorter published an article [1] in which he made the argument that it is not just rare that languages evolve to become simpler overall without the language being acquired by adults, but that such simplification is indeed impossible.

He phrases his thesis thus.
In the uninterrupted transmission of a human language, radical loss of complexity throughout the grammar is neither normal, occasional, nor rare, but impossible. The natural state of human language is one saddled with accreted complexity unnecessary to communication. Wherever this complexity is radically abbreviated overall rather than in scattered, local fashion, this is not just sometimes, but always caused by a sociohistorical situation in which non-native acquisition of the language was widespread enough that grammar was transmitted to new generations in a significantly simplified form. This is true not only in the extreme case of creoles, but also to a lesser but robust extent in many languages of the world.
Languages become more complex over time when there is no outside influence on them. In McWhorter's words: grammars naturally "maintain a considerable level of complexity over time: simplifications occur, but are counterbalanced by complexifications due to grammaticalization, reanalysis, and new patterns created by phonetic erosion."

The languages of Keo, Rongga, and Ngadh, spoken on the island of Flores in Indonesia, are completely analytic (meaning of a very simplex grammatical form), and yet are surrounded by hundreds of related languages that are much more complex.
Austronesianists treat these languages’ analyticity as a matter of chance, of little inherent interest. But under my analysis, these languages are utterly bizarre. Why did a descendant of Proto-Austronesian wend its way into eschewing all affixation?
Indonesia has a lot of spoken languages, and many of them are very much more complicated than they need to be. McWhorter explains that this is how languages often evolve, by picking up with 'complexifications' just because they can. Much to his surprise, he then encountered this small group of languages that are very simple, in contrast with hundreds of related languages. This mystery needed an explanation.
The reason languages like Keo and Ngada are so strangely streamlined on Flores is that an earlier ancestor of these languages, just as complex as its family members tend to be, was used as second language by these other people and simplified. Just as our classroom French and Spanish avoids or streamlines a lot of the "hard stuff," people who learn a language as adults usually do not master it entirely.

Specifically, I would hypothesize that the little people were gradually incorporated into modern human society over time—perhaps subordinated in some way—such that modern human children were hearing the little people's rendition of the language as much as a native one.
McWhorter's speculation that it was contact with H. floresiensis that led to the simplification of Keo, Rongga, and Ngadh is to me astonishing. There's currently no evidence for that whatsoever, though, but just to consider these two species communicating is enticing. Imagine what we could learn about ourselves during such an encounter. It would be like speaking with animals (which has been done using sign language, in the case of both gorillas and chimpanzees). He notes that linguists could in that case add interspecies contact to the list of factors that affect how languages evolve.

Whether Homo floresiensis was a different species or not is very contentious at the moment. It really doesn't matter for McWhorter's linguistic explanation of language simplification, though. If H. Floresiensis was a microcephalic human population, the languages could have simplified with contact with them nontheless. However, it does add momentous marvel to the story.

For a great review of the current debate over whether H. floresiensis was a different species of Homo or not, see 'What Is the Hobbit?' by Tabitha Powledge [2].

Some words that I had to look up to get through this paper: affixation, agglutination, analytic, ellipsis, enclitic, ergativity, inflection, morpheme, periphrastic, typology.

Flores, Indonesia:

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[1] John McWhorter (2008). Why does a language undress? Strange cases in Indonesia Miestamo, Matti, Kaius Sinnemäki and Fred Karlsson (eds.), Language Complexity: Typology, contact, change. 2008. xiv, 356 pp., 167-190

[2] Tabitha M. Powledge (2006). What Is the Hobbit? PLoS Biology, 4 (12) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0040440

Bankruptcy is Hell

I just heard this priceless comparison on NPR:
Capitalism without the threat of bankruptcy is like Christianity without the threat of Hell.
They were talking about the economic crisis and the stimulus package. It does really seem rather strange that a private company can run itself into destitution, and then be saved by the tax-payers in the nick of time.

Similarly, I do wonder why those pesky door-ringing Jehovah's Witnesses get anyone to join their sect when they can't threaten with Hell. They also only have room for 144,000 souls in Heaven. No comment.

David Attenborough receives hate-mail

David Attenborough doesn't credit God in his television programmes (spelling in respect of this Brit), so what? So he receives hate-mail from religious viewers, of course.
"They tell me to burn in hell and good riddance," Sir David said, explaining that he is regularly asked why he does not "give credit" to the Lord for creating the flora and fauna featured in his programmes.
One must give credit where it's due, and since there is no evidence that it is due the Lord, none is given to him.

He then surmises that it is strange that this Lord should only be given credit for the flora and fauna that we humans admire, but not vile things that hurt us humans. He doesn't mention bacteria and viruses, but he could as well have.
"They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in East Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."
Anyhow, what I wanted to get at is that I have only ever heard of hate-mail coming from the religious. It's not that I wouldn't believe that atheists send hate-mail to religious people, but I'd want to see it before I'll believe it.

If you would like some examples of hate-mail sent to atheists, PZ Myers is a good place to start. His 'I get email' series is chock full of such goodies. I especially recommend the special cracker edition, about the kidnapped Eucharist which the Catholics went nuts over last year.

To see David Attenborough in action, take a look at this clip about the Superb Lyrebird. It is mindblowingly amazing. (Via My Growing Passion.)

The political divide and views on sex

There is a cultural rift that mirrors America’s dominant political divide, and it's all about sex.

I was directed to this excellent article, Red Sex Blue Sex, about attitudes towards sex in red and blue states in the United States by Tom Rees of Epiphenom. I highly recommend reading it to those who think that
  • abstinence-only sexual education for teenagers works,
  • morality is superior in the Bible Belt,
  • there are fewer instances of sexually transmitted diseases among Evangelicals and other Christians,
  • God is a better guide to sexuality than parents,
  • non-Christian Americans get pregnant earlier, or that
  • a certain attitude toward sex implies equal sexual behavior.

From the article:
Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion.
In short, it is misguided to obtain your moral views on sexual intercourse and all that from the Bible. When we educate our children we better not ignore that they are humans with a natural desire. To do so 1) makes them unhappy adults, and 2) doesn't work anyway.

The Catholic church is irrelevant

The Vatican, the Pope, the Cardinals, and their Bishops are a strange collection of men disconnected from the rest of the world, yet they purport to know what is best for the its inhabitants. They call Obama arrogant because he lifts the ban on funding to organizations that give advice about abortion, and they accept that their own Bishops deny the holocaust, all at the same time.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said that it is
the arrogance of someone who believes they are right, in signing a decree which will open the door to abortion and thus to the destruction of human life.
The Pope has rehabilitated Bishop Richard Williamson, who recently said this.
I believe there were no gas chambers. I think that two to three hundred thousand Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but none of them by gas chambers.
Of course, the Vatican sided with Hitler, and they are monstrously scared of sex, so for themselves there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with claiming Obama is arrogant at the same time as they condone someone who said that the holocaust never took place.

They deserve that we all ignore them out of influence.

Ex-detainees becoming terrorists is no reason not to close Gitmo

The Pentagon has just released a report which posits that some of the Guantanamo detainees that were released have become terrorists.
The report, released days before President Obama took office, says 18 former detainees are confirmed to have participated in attacks, and 43 are suspected to have been involved in attacks.
That would indeed be worrying if true. However, if this alleged fact is ever used as an argument against closing Gitmo, as ordered by President Obama, consider that what people do after they are released, because no charges were made against them, really shouldn't have any bearing on whether they should have been released or not. If there isn't enough evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were terrorists, then they should be released despite fears that they might become terrorists. You can't detain people because what you suspect they might become later on.

Karl Rove distorts one last time

Karl Rove write in the Wall Street Journal today under the title Bush Was Right When It Mattered Most.
To start with, Mr. Bush was right about Iraq. The world is safer without Saddam Hussein in power. And the former president was right to change strategy and surge more U.S. troops.
No, Karl, he was wrong. There was no threat of WMDs, and there was no credible intelligence that there was. All lies and rationalizations for a war that you dupes in his administration wished for. There was no connection, as alleged, between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. America is not safer with Saddam gone. Nor is Iraq safer. Who exactly is safer now, Karl?
Iraq is now on the mend, the war is on the path to victory, al Qaeda has been dealt a humiliating defeat, and a democracy in the heart of the Arab world is emerging.
The war was always on the path to victory for you dupes, wasn't it? At all times. At least as you presented it to the public. Al Qaeda was not in Iraq. Al Qaeda was not in Iraq. Al Qaeda was not in Iraq. You dupes forced democracy on Iraq. Is that the way it should have been done? Hopefully Iraq will become a functioning democracy. That would be good. But so far it only works with a US military presence. Let's see what happens there when foreign troops leave.
At home, Mr. Bush cut income taxes for every American who pays taxes. He also cut taxes on capital, investment and savings. The result was 52 months of growth and the strongest economy of any developed country.
So, this dismal economy of today has nothing to do with his policies of the last eight years? I don't know which 52 months you're talking about Karl, but it sure as hell doesn't include the last 12, does it?
He was right to stand for a culture of life. And he was right to appoint conservative judges who strictly interpret the Constitution.
We're getting to strictly opinions, now. I disagree. I think this was the wrong thing to do. A "culture of life" should not include the death penalty.
And Mr. Bush, a man of core decency and integrity, was right not to reply in kind when Democratic leaders called him a liar and a loser. The price of trying to change the tone in Washington was to be often pummeled by lesser men.
True. He was right to ignore those who called him a liar, because a president shouldn't be lying at all to those he serve, and the only sane response would have been to admit that he was lying. Or, one could venture a guess that he wasn't lying because he wasn't informed by Cheney, Rumsfeld, or by you, Karl. You were the liars.

This brief article is a pathetic attempt to remedy how Bush will go down in history. I'm sure he will be remembered much more favorably than he deserves.

Pharyngulites, vote for this excellent video

Dustin Oakley made this preeminent advertisement for INNOCENTIVE. He could win $5,000 to pay off his medical bills that he amassed after a skiing accident, which also cost him his job and his health insurance.

With that I say, Pharyngulites, go view it, rate it (highly), and comment favorably.

(Via Evolutionary Novelties.)

W says his goodbyes to us fuckers

Fresh from the White House, W says goodbye in his newfound eloquent style:
In the spirit of desperate bipartisanship that our entire societal breakdown has necessitationed, and in light of popularity poll numbers that make Richard Nixon look like a greased Chippendale at a bachelorette party, I just want to say that we can all agree on one thing: whether you're an immigrant terrorist or non-terrorist, a bellyaching homo, a legless Iraqazoid, a drowned corpse bloating in the New Orleans sun, an effete Huffington Post-reading urban iPhone zombie, or a Hannity-worshipping redneck patrio-fascist, a negro, a Mexi-rican, a normal guy, a feminist, a stoner, or a fixed income oldster reduced to buying Walgreens-brand Depends, odds are you're tickled pinker than Barry Manilow's boa that I'm getting the fuck outta Dodge.
And so, my fellow Americans, for the final time: Good night. May God, and Jesus, but not Allah, JewGod, or Xenu bless this house and our next CEO. And may God bless you and our wonderful pyramid scheme of a narcissistic country. Thank you.


Evolution does mean better and more complex

ResearchBlogging.orgThe American Society of Human Genetics has a quick little quiz on evolution. Unfortunately they get one question wrong:

I am well aware that it is a common objection that evolved does not mean 'better', and that evolution is not synonymous with 'progress'.

I am also quite familiar with the examples of loss of for example eyesight in many species, and this is often taken to mean that the animal becomes more simple.

However, as living things evolve, they do in fact become better. Better at what? Better at reproducing. Better than who? Better than the previous generations. Natural selection favors those organisms that reproduce more, and so over time the population as a whole will become better at reproducing. But is this always so?

No, it isn't always true that a population evolves to reproduce more. There are exceptions, in nature and in theory. These are well understood. For example, Wilke et al. (2001) found that a population favors a genotype with lower fitness if the neighboring genotypes are equal in fitness (a plateau), compared to a higher fitness genotype with neighbors that have even lower fitness (a sharp peak). Thus, less reproduction, but fewer low fitness offspring saves the day.

However, on average, those that are better at reproducing are the ones that have the most descendants, and thus living things do evolve to become 'better' in this sense. I suspect that the reason many people have gone away from this kind of thinking is that it seems like an endorsement of the view that humans are more evolved and thus better than other species. Well, this is just not what it means in terms of evolution. Other species are more or less as evolved as humans, and a comparison between species is not really possible the way I have here compared organisms within a population. When two populations live in different niches, they aren't really competing with each other to make the most offspring. They have become different species.

Secondly, the quiz does not state what is meant by 'more complex'. This is highly important, as there are many measures of complexity. A quantitative measure is required if we are to stringently compare different organisms or species. A vague notion that 'more complex' means bigger, more civilized, more intelligent, more diverse, and/or a larger genome just does not work. If any of those are meant, then that's what people should say instead of 'complex'.

There are many definitions of complexity, and I suspect most researchers think of structural complexity when they don't specify which kind they are talking about:
Structural complexity is generally what we mean when we consider animals, but this seems to be the hardest measure to define. McShea(6) has studied several measures of structural complexity, based on number of cell types, different limb-pair types, and even the fractal dimension of sutures in ammonoids. [Adami, 2002]
Given this problem of measuring structural complexity, Adami proposes that physical complexity is the best quantitative measure, and that this kind of complexity does increase in evolution:
Arguments for or against a trend in the evolution of complexity are weakened by the lack of an unambiguous definition of complexity. Such definitions abound for both dynamical systems and biological organisms, but have drawbacks of either a conceptual or a practical nature. Physical complexity, a measure based on automata theory and information theory, is a simple and intuitive measure of the amount of information that an organism stores, in its genome, about the environment in which it evolves. It is argued that physical complexity must increase in molecular evolution of asexual organisms in a single niche if the environment does not change, due to natural selection. It is possible that complexity decreases in co-evolving systems as well as at high mutation rates, in sexual populations, and in time-dependent landscapes. However, it is reasoned that these factors usually help, rather than hinder, the evolution of complexity, and that a theory of physical complexity for coevolving species will reveal an overall trend towards higher complexity in biological evolution. [my emphasis.]
The answer to the quiz question is given like this:
Living things do not have to be perfect to survive, just good enough for a given environment. Insects evolved mouth parts adapted for chewing (A), lapping (B), and siphoning (C), all of which are different but not necessarily better. All originated from a common ancestor, driven in part by the evolution of plants. However, other organisms such as sharks have changed very little over millions of years. Also, species can evolve simplicity too. While it is true that all species originally evolved from simple cells, as time passed “less” became more beneficial. For example, humans no longer have the tails of our distant ancestors, and blind mole rats lost the vision of their ancestors.
Who said anything about perfection? And the fact that sharks and many other species have evolved very little for millions of years doesn't even address the question asked. Blind mole rats (and many other blind species) have lost vision for a reason. They certainly didn't become 'simpler'. On the contrary the evidence suggest that blind cave fish lost vision because of pleiotropic constraints. Some of the genes that are involved in making eyes are also involved in jaw development. PZ Myers wrote a readable article in Seed about this loss of vision:
What we have is a perfect example of an evolutionary tradeoff. Because hedgehog and pax6 are negatively coupled to one another, one can be expanded only at the expense of the other, and what is going on in the blind cavefish is not selection for an economical reduction of the eyes, nor the accidental loss of an organ that has no effect: It is positive selection for a feature that is only indirectly related to the eyes.
It's frankly a little sad that ASHG didn't make a better evolution quiz than this. As we celebrate Darwin's 200th birthday this year, we will see and hear a lot about evolution, and that's going to be exciting. However, let's strive to get it right, and when there isn't a clear consensus, make that clear as well.

Claus O. Wilke, Jia Lan Wang, Charles Ofria, Richard E. Lenski, Christoph Adami (2001). Evolution of digital organisms at high mutation rates leads to survival of the flattest Nature, 412 (6844), 331-333 DOI: 10.1038/35085569

Christoph Adami (2002). What is complexity? BioEssays, 24 (12), 1085-1094 DOI: 10.1002/bies.10192

Touch it and it's designed

Honestly, I was just waiting for this comment. I had a strong feeling that some anti-evolution... person... would come along and say that the experiment with chemical replicators proves nothing in regards to evolution and the origin of life (abiogenesis).

If you haven't read about it, I recommend PZ Myers' post on Lincoln and Joyce's paper, Self-sustained replication of an RNA enzyme. (Science Jan 8, 2009.)

The comment in question is a letter to the editor of the Augusta Chronicle (GA), and I quote it here in its entirety:
Scientists at the Scripps Research Center in La Jolla, Calif., have created a self-replicating molecule that they say has the ability to "evolve and compete to win or lose."

Before we jump on the "evolution has been proven" bandwagon, let's take a look at exactly what has been accomplished here.

These molecules were created ; that is, they had an initial cause. Secondly, the La Jolla scientists say that the molecules can evolve. I'll suspend judgement until all the facts are in, but I suspect that what is really occurring is adaptation , not evolution.

In the end, this test will probably go down as another failed attempt to justify spending huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate our children in the disproved religion of humanistic evolution.

Dan Duncan, Aiken, S.C. [My emphasis.]
Dan may say that he is going to take a look at what exactly has been accomplished, but he never gets around to it. Saying that they were created is a far cry from the details (it's a pretty technical paper).

This comment is exactly what I was expecting someone to make. Yes, the scientists did something. What are they supposed to do to make you happy, Dan? Just nothing? In other words, someone somewhere will object that this kind of experiment is of no relevance whatsoever, as long as the scientists as much as add uracil to the broth. The required experiment is thus one where no one touches anything! And if that doesn't happen in the lab with new life-forms appearing out of nowhere, then it didn't happen 3.8 billion years ago either, I trust someone somewhere will argue.

Secondly, Dan Duncan seems confused about adaptation/evolution. True, adaptation need not imply evolution. If it's a script, or if it's a person adapting to a new work environment, for example. But if it's molecules and if there's heritability, then it's definitely evolution.

As for "the disproved religion of humanistic evolution." Eh? The what? Humanistic what? What did he say?

Coal's devastation

Having almost forgotten about the coal ash spill in Tennessee last month (courtesy of Tom Kilgore), this article in the Sierra Club Magazine recalls the other devastating effect of that industry:
To begin to appreciate the enormity of the mountaintop-removal sites--some of which stretch across 15 square miles--you have to fly over them. Even so, the scale of the destruction is hard to comprehend. That devastation is not limited to trees and mountains, but extends to the people who live among the ruin. They tell stories of poisoned water, dried-up wells, and cracked foundations. They testify to fish kills, company intimidation, and roads crumbling beneath the weight of overloaded coal trucks. They fear paid-off inspectors, 100-year floods that now happen twice a year, and above all the wide-reaching power of King Coal.
And here is a shocker for those who, like me, don't know how much coal a regular household uses for electricity:

Nuclear power starts sounding real good?

Black ties and bicycles

As I was taking a walk outside this evening two Mormons passed by me, bicycles, black tie, and all. The two guys were probably around 18, I would guess. The stopped next to me, and one of them spoke. This is how the conversation went in my mind in a flash:

Mormon: Good evening.
Me: Hello.
Mormon: Have you found Jesus Christ?
Me: No, I don't believe in God.
Mormon: Would you like me to tell you about how to improve your life through Christ?
Me: No thanks, I'm atheist.
Mormon: Have you read the Bible?
Me: Sure, most of it, but I don't believe in God.
Mormon: I would like to recommend you to read the whole Bible...
Me: No thanks, I just really don't believe any of it.
Mormon: Why not?
Me: There's just no evidence for any of it.
Mormon: How about all these plants and animals around us. How do you think they came into being.
Me: Please. Are you truly ignorant of what we know about that, or were you just hoping I was?
Mormon: Then how do you think there can be an absolute moral good without God?
Me: I don't think there is a absolute moral good, but there's plenty of evidence that we can be moral without God.
Mormon: Like what evidence?
Me: Like the fact that I am moral, and yet I don't believe in God. Like the fact that humans were moral before some confused goat herders wrote the Bible, and that other species can act morally as well.
Mormon: Uhm, okay sir, you have a nice evening now.
Me: How about you guys? How you found nothing yet?
Mormon: Nothing?
Me: Yeah. That there is nothing out there to guide you, to choose for you, to determine how you must live your lives, and that there is no afterlife. That this life is all you've got, and that you are wasting it away pushing a silly dream in ugly black ties and silly underwear. It pains me to see.
Mormon: Well, you have a nice night, now.

And this is the conversation that actually took place:

Mormon: Good evening.
Me: Hello.
Mormon: Have you found Jesus Christ?
Me: No, I don't believe in God.
Mormon: Would you like me to tell you about how to improve your life through Christ?
Me: No thanks. I'm okay. I don't really have room in my life for religion.
Mormon: Well, you have a nice night, now.

I'm such a milksop.

Help Sierra Club to save the Gray Wolf

The Sierra Club is fighting the last anti-environmental changes that the Bush-administration are making before they leave the White Hosue. This time the Gray Wolf has been taken off the Endangered Species list. Click to sign the petition and ask President-Elect Obama to reverse these dangerous rulings right away.
On Wednesday - with just five days left before leaving office - the Bush Administration defied previous court rulings and removed the gray wolf from the Endangered Species list. The states surrounding Yellowstone - Idaho, Wyoming and Montana - have aggressive management plans that could wipe out 2/3 of the Northern Rockies wolf population.

Wealthy men's women have more orgasms

ResearchBlogging.orgIf your man is rich you'll have a higher frequency of orgasms. At least if you're Chinese (not including Tibet and Hong Kong). Why is this interesting at all, except that it's about sex, which human find interesting in a of itself? Well, because we have no idea why women have orgasms in the first place. It pretty clear why, and notably when, men have orgasms, but no one really knows why women have them.

Male income and height are were included to measure male quality, because both parameters have previously been found to affect male reproductive success. Rich men are sexy. Tall men are sexy. But does male sexiness translate into more female orgasms?

The hypothesis about female orgasms that Pollet and Nettle investigate is this one.
If female orgasm is adaptively designed for discriminating male quality, then it should be more frequent in females paired with high-quality males.
And since male quality is wealth and height, their prediction is clear.
If the adaptive view of female orgasm is correct, then we predict that women will report more frequent orgasms the richer their partners are and the taller their partners are.
The 1534 women in the study self-reported via computers away from the their homes, so if you think you can trust self-reporting (which is always an issue), you may agree with the authors that women have more orgasms the higher their partner's income is. But does this explain why women have orgasms at all?

They end the paper thus.
The data produced so far, while apparently consistent with an adaptive role for female orgasm, are far from definitive. Moreover, even if consistent with an adaptive role for female orgasm, these data do not allow conclusive testing between two alternative proposed functions—namely, that female orgasm differentially promotes emotional bonding with high-quality males or that it differentially promotes conception with such males under conditions of sperm competition.
More research is need to elucidate the function of the female orgasm. Anyone disagree with that?

Additionally, there was a slight trend that partner height influence orgasm frequency the same way that wealth does. The probability that this was a random effect was 0.5<p<0.1, meaning that it didn't quite make below the magical P-value of 5%. We definitely need more data on that.

T POLLET, D NETTLE (2009). Partner wealth predicts self-reported orgasm frequency in a sample of Chinese women Evolution and Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2008.11.002

Beautiful letters, dumbass words

Cyrillic is a beautiful alphabet. Of course, that doesn't mean that it can't be used to write ugly things. I just received this email, with a message that I find repulsive, and it's not only because of the gory redundancy of exclamation marks.

From: Archer Loyd <>
Sent: Fri Jan 16 12:20
Subject: They are lying you every day

Все мелкие людишки - слепые животные, которые ради денег готовы на все. Вас ежедневно унижают сильные мира сего, а вы этого не замечаете и думаете, что выбираете.

I'd like to show you the web-site about financial pyramid! Take a look, how people get dumbed by System. And the jews stand behind it! Look!! It's true!!!

[Some URL deleted.]
[My emphasis.]

Intelligent Design is a failed scientific theory

Update February 6, 2009:
Make that "failed scientific hypothesis."

A Kalamazoo (MI) resident defends evolutionary theory and makes the point that has been made many times before, that intelligent design is not a scientific theory.

Disclaimer: I do not think there is any merit to intelligent design. I believe that there is no system/structure/pathway/organ/organ that's irreducibly complex, and I believe that life originated and evolved by natural processes without the aid of any designer of any kind, whether scientists will be able to verify how all such systems, etc., originated or not.

From Kalamazoo the word is this.
Intelligent design is a philosophy. There is no test we can run to check intelligent [design], so it can never be considered a scientific theory. Therefore Intelligent Design should never be taught in a science classroom. It should be taught in philosophy class instead. That's still true.
Why is it that intelligent design is not a scientific theory? Is it really not?

The problem is that to verify (i.e. prove beyond any doubt) that a system is not designed by an intelligence, we have to show that there is no way it could have evolved (here meaning appeared by natural processes only). If one scientists have given up finding an explanation for, say, the origin of life (abiogenesis), he may conclude that there is just no way it could have happened by natural means, and that it must have come about by design. However, another scientist might have a go at an explanation, and when she gives up, a third may come along keeping up our hopes (if, like me, that's what we hope for). There is no way to completely dismiss the idea that a system has evolved by natural means, and many people, like our hero from Kalamazoo, thus concludes that the theory of intelligent design is thus not a scientific theory (since to qualify as 'scientific', a theory must be falsifiable).

While I, and I repeat, do not think that there is any need to invoke a designer to explain anything observed in nature, I also do not think that there is a strong enough reason that intelligent design should not have status as a scientific theory. Please let me explain before you run away and accuse me of heresy...

The notion of falsifiability comes from Karl Popper, and is largely agreed upon by anyone who knows the first thing about science. It means that to be scientific, a theory must be falsifiable.

However, nothing in science can be verified with complete certainty. There are no P-values that equal zero. That then means that we can never be sure that we have the right explanation for anything. Ever. We can be pretty god damn sure, if we keep testing our hypothesis and the evidence always confirms it. But that's how things are, and we are content enough that that's all we can do. People who believe science works another way are mistaken. Grrr!

Let's return now to intelligent design, and the specific hypothesis that the origin of life is irreducibly complex. Can I falsify this? Why, yes I can. If I find a way that it could work by natural means, then that would do the job. That hypothesis in turn would then have to survive all attacks of falsification, but if it does, then it's one up for nature, and zero for the intelligent designer. The problem with intelligent design is then that it can just move on to another system, and say "well, okay, origin of life could have happened by natural processes, but how about the flagellum, eh?" And then real scientists would go to work on that system, and when they, after years and years of toiling, have satisfied most everyone in the scientific community who cares enough to comment, then we can also rules out flagellum as having been under the knife of our hypothesized designer. Two-nil for nature. But... then a third structure is posited as irreducibly complex, and the scientific process starts all over again (hopefully funding doesn't run out in the meantime).

Repeat this ad infinitum, and someone might still suppose that some other system is irreducibly complex, right? Well, no. For two reasons. First, at least in principle, there is actually a finite number of systems (or of anything, for that matter, in a finite Universe - or at least on our very finite Earth). So, at least in principle, it is actually possible to falsify the claim that there is at least one such intelligently designed system among organismal life forms on Earth. If you object that that will never happen, you'd be quite right. In that case, recall that in science we don't actually need to be so certain to accept a claim as scientific fact. We just have to falsify a thing a good and solid number of times, and I don't see any reason why this should not apply to the hypotheses of intelligent design theory. On second thought, let me rephrase that. There is no good reason why it would not be enough to falsify specific claims of irreducibly complexity a finite (and manageable) number of times in order to falsify the larger claim that there are any such irreducibly complex systems at all.

The state of things is that many of the systems that Michael J. Behe in Darwins Black Box claimed were irreducibly complex have been shown beyond scientific doubt to not be irreducibly complex. That includes the blood clotting cascade, the flagellum, eyes, and most recently there is now a lot of buzz about a soon-to-be famous experiment by Lincoln and Joyce, who in an experiment with RNA have shown one possible way that non-living enzymes could use monomers to make copies of themselves for as long as they shall live. That's admittedly only a few out of the many systems that could be posited to be designed. But it's a very good start. We are on our way to falsify the claim that there are any systems that are irreducibly complex, and thus we tentatively conclude that there is no system that is designed.

Thus (and thank you for reading this far) I don't see any problem calling intelligent design a scientific theory. It's a failed scientific theory, though. None of it's claim have so far held up. I predict that some years hence it will have no serious adherents anymore, by which I mean scientists who are not hellbent on a God Proof. There are those around, I am aware. Those who will not face the facts, and who dismiss evidence when it flies in their faces. Science - this wonderful endeavor for knowledge - has no need for people like that.

Lastly, I would like to caution those who too readily dismiss scientific claims because those who claim them are religious people out to prove their foregone conclusions. While such a predisposition toward a religious agenda certainly does not shine a fair light in search for knowledge, it also does not devastate it. In fact, recall that many famous and revered scientists were not just religious, but also out to prove the existence of God through examining his wonderful creation. In other words, the origin of intelligent design may be one of creationism (okay, it is), but Tycho Brahe did not observe the heavens, laying the foundation of Kepler's laws, leading to Newton's laws, et cetera, et cetera, because he was interested in nature. He did it because the Danish King at the time commissioned him to make precise observations of the planets so accurate horoscopes could be constructed. No one in their right mind would dismiss that famous Dane's contribution to science because his motives were astrological.

Update 6/15/2009: I realize now hat I have been conflating Intelligent Design and irredicible complexity. Apologies. I no longer stand by the previous statements that ID is scientific, but only that IC is a scientific hypothesis.

Related posts:
Taking Intelligent Design seriously
10 minutes on Intelligent Design
Why teach Intelligent Design?
The red swan hypothesis
The big Judge John E. Jones III interview
Khmer Rouge chemistry

Ten ways Obama will do better than Bush

Bob Woodward wrote four books on the Bush-presidency, and today on Sunday (!) shares these ten lessons for future presidents to reflect upon (followed by my own audacious predictions for Obama):

1. Presidents set the tone. Don't be passive or tolerate virulent divisions.

Check. Obama will not leave the room while his aides fight it out.

2. The president must insist that everyone speak out loud in front of the others, even -- or especially -- when there are vehement disagreements.

Check. Obama is not going to allow ridicule within his administration.

3. A president must do the homework to master the fundamental ideas and concepts behind his policies.

(Okay, I got tired of this 'check' thing already.) Obama reads books. He will act inquisitively and skeptically.

4. Presidents need to draw people out and make sure bad news makes it to the Oval Office.

I predict Obama will seek out credible sources of information, and not blindly trust the opinions of his aides. Nor will he ever reference any "higher father."

5. Presidents need to foster a culture of skepticism and doubt.

Obama has already expressed that he is a man of doubt in an area where Bush found only certainty (i.e. religion).

6. Presidents get contradictory data, and they need a rigorous way to sort it out.

I predict that Obama will not dismiss contradicting intelligence. I would have predicted this for any President-elect, so I would have been wrong eight years ago.

7. Presidents must tell the hard truth to the public, even if that means delivering very bad news.

Obama would not likely copy this style of the Bush-administration. Better be upfront than risk making any of those gargantuan mistakes.

8. Righteous motives are not enough for effective policy.

I just don't see Obama saying that we will be greeted as liberators...

9. Presidents must insist on strategic thinking.

Long-term plans for the economy is surely a priority.

10. The president should embrace transparency. Some version of the behind-the-scenes story of what happened in his White House will always make it out to the public -- and everyone will be better off if that version is as accurate as possible.

If Obama presents plans with great assertiveness, he will follow through, and failure to do so will be the exception.

There. That should do a smidgen better than my last predictions for the coming administration.

Adolf Hitler taken by authorities

Adolf Hitler Campbell (3) and his two younger sisters have been taken from their home by the authorities.

For those who didn't catch the news before, his idiotic parents were denied a birthday cake with Adolf's name on it by a local supermarket.

The father, Heath Campbell, said
They're just names, you know. Yeah, they (the Nazis) were bad people back then. But my kids are little. They're not going to grow up like that.
However, Heath reportedly denies the Holocaust and their home is decorated with swastikas.

So what to think of the action taken by the authorities? Is there any abuse of the children? If they are great parents otherwise, and their asinine naming and other Nazi adulation is the only thing on them, then what to think of the situation? Is the removal of the kids justified?

Many people would perhaps contend the parents can't possibly be in their right minds, and that we should expect them to at least greatly influence their children on the subject of Nazism and the Holocaust. Is this kind of indoctrination child abuse?

Bottom line for me is that I feel so, so sorry for these three kids. They could lose their parents because of their parents' stupid choices, or they could grow up indoctrinated, idolizing Hitler, denying the Holocaust, and thinking less of Jews, blacks, and homosexuals. In this case I have a hard time telling what's worse.

Homeopathy is as silly as it gets

How much do you know about homeopathy? Did you know that it works by diluting the remedy to the point that it is like a single drop in all the World's oceans? I had heard that, but was surprised at reading about the principle of "like cures like" in this eSkeptic article by Harriet Hall, MD:
Homeopathy was invented by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s. It is based on the now-outdated principle that “like cures like,” and the lower the dose the better in homeopathy. If coffee keeps you awake, highly diluted coffee will put you to sleep. The more dilute the coffee, the better you will sleep.
I should have known of this principle much earlier. Next time I have a cold I will go and drink some water without any rhinovirus in it, and expect to be cured. I'll let you all know how that works. I expect it will lower the period I am sick from the usual week to about seven days.

Besides, if Queen Elizabeth uses it it can't be all bad. She's like how old now? 81?

The killing of Oscar Grant

On New Year's Eve, Oscar Grant was murdered by a transit police officer. Grant was subdued, posed no threat, and was shot execution style.

Johannes Mehserle, Grant's killer, has not been arrested, charged with a crime, or even questioned by the Alameda District Attorney. More than 10 days later Mehserle still walks free.

Join us in demanding that California Attorney General Jerry Brown take over the case from the District Attorney and arrest Mehserle immediately. At the same time your action will result in an appeal to the US Department of Justice to investigate the repeated failures of BART Police and the Alameda County District Attorney's Office to hold officers accountable in police-killings.

WARNING: this is explicit.
Video from transit passenger showing
the killing of Grant (gun fires at 01:26).

Go here to make that demand of Jerry Brown.

Update 1/15: The officer who shot Oscar Grant has been arrested.

Tagged by a nerd

There's this game of tag going on. I've seen several bloggers being tagged, and I know some have been tagged more than once. Since the game requires you to tag six other people, soon all bloggers should have been tagged. Could I be the last one?

I was just tagged by Christie Lynn, self-professed nerd.

Ze rules:

1. Link to the person or persons who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random and/or revealing things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog
6. Let the tagger know when your post entry is up on your site.

Six random* things about myself:

  1. I would give my right arm to be ambidextrous™.

  2. I naturally tend to jump the fence at its lowest.

  3. I used to code HTML for food. This was in New York, Upper West side, where I lived for 4 years. I coded more than HTML, like SQL and ColdFusion, but I got paid in food for the HTML.

  4. I like all foods, with few exceptions, but I am very picky about what I drink. I imbibe with pleasure the following (non-inclusive list): milk, beer, water, orange juice, red wine, rum, red tea, green tea, vodka, snaps, white wine, whiskey, coca cola, gin, tonic, glögg, and sake. I don't drink coffee (I'm the only one).

  5. I used to not do drugs. I still don't, but I used not to, too. And I think Mitch Hedberg is the man. Was. As in, "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long."

  6. I really like fallacious. I could be wrong, but that could be tested.

  7. I think the best jokes are those that make people uncertain whether it's a joke or not. People often go "just kidding!" before there's even time to laugh. If I let on that it was a joke at all, it could be years. I told a girl in '94 she had some cream soup between her teeth. I still haven't told her I was kidding. Sorry!

Now I have to tag another sex people. Six, six, and six. Is this the devil's game, or what? I will tag

* I made a list of all things abut myself, rolled a die, and these 7 things came up. I have the only seven-sided die ever made.

noitulevo noitacude

Eric Mazur, Harvard professor of physics, has a perspective article in the January 2nd issue of Science about education (if you don't have access, I'll be happy to send you a copy of the pdf - my email's on the left). In the supplemental material he gives some examples of questions that students answer in class using a 'clicker', which gives him immediate feedback.

One of the questions is

His list of possible answers is at the bottom of the post, but think about it first...

Mazur writes that he has found that lecturing isn't the best way to educate the students, so instead he has them read the material before the 'lecture', and they then use the time together for discussion of the material. Kudos to Mazur for getting his students to read the book in advance. Perhaps this can only be done at Harvard?

Why don't lectures work? For one thing,
the lecture method as a process whereby the lecture notes of the instructor get transferred to the notebooks of the students without passing through the brains of either.
He also talks about engaging the students, which I agree is extremely beneficial. Sleeping students at lectures is not just very common, it's iconic. What's the most common adjective used with the word 'lecture?' It's 'boring,' and so it is. Having to click a little remote control throughout the 'lecture' prevents sleep, I should say.

I definitely want to do this myself when the time comes.

And the questions are:

You got answers?

As for mirrors, while it appears that your mirror image is turned left-to-right but not upside-down, consider that that's not really what mirrors do. What they really do is invert front and back, not left and right.

Palin on pathetic

To Esquire magazine, Sarah Palin said the following.
"Bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie annoy me....I'll tell you, yesterday the Anchorage Daily News, they called again to ask — double-, triple-, quadruple-check — who is Trig's real mom. And I said, Come on, are you kidding me? We're gonna answer this? Do you not believe me or my doctor? And they said, No, it's been quite cryptic the way that my son's birth has been discussed. And I thought, Okay, more indication of continued problems in the world of journalism."
I actually agree with the first line. I don't like bored. I don't like anonymous. I don't like lying. Bloggers who are those could be called pathetic with some justification. Good thing about blogs, though, is that you can just close the browser, and they're gone.

Palin's quote here is confusing, because she starts by patronizing bloggers, while the rest of the rant is really about journalists. I, too, would find it incredibly annoying if a newspaper called to ask me the same stupid question four times. However, she didn't get those four calls from bloggers, but from a journalist.

Yet another example of her ineptness?

Indoctrination in progress

Reading Tom Rees' post about what makes happy children (and that it's not religion and spiritual beliefs), I am reminded about a brief event last weekend.

I was using the toilet in the auxiliary quarters of a church, and as I passed by a classroom, I heard (and saw through the window) a teacher telling a class of about ten 5-6 year olds that "all you have to do is accept that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and that if you believe in him you will go to heaven when you die." It was said sort of in conclusion of the class, and sounded mostly like a reminder. I was going to write that I'm sure they needed one (because such things religious should normally be wholly irrelevant to children), but then I remind myself that they are probably also at times told about the other place they can go, if they don't accept Jesus blah blah blah. Those stories are made to scare the little ones, so that they aren't free to make the choice when they would otherwise be old enough to critically consider the ideas. 'INDOCTRINATION IN PROGRESS' would have been a fitting sign for the door.

I went into the adjacent room and played Imagine on the piano there*.

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace


[* For those who know me personally: I taught myself to play piano a little not so long ago. It's most unimpressive.]

Black doll bad

What the hell is up with this? Why do these black children think the black doll is the ugly and bad doll, and why would they say this when they also identify with the black doll.

This seriously just made the day way gloomier than it needed to be.


It begs the question if the children are trying to live up to the (non-existent) expectations of the researcher. What's their color? If white, then that would perhaps explain the behavior in part. I cling to the hope that it would be the case, even though that has some other negative consequences, of course.

Similar videos: Black doll White doll | Black Doll/White doll

The last one ends with this conversation:

Researcher: Why don't you like yourself?
Child: Because I'm black.


Two persons or one?

When they go to the cinema, they pay for two tickets. Abby and Britty are conjoined twins. Or, they are one person with two heads. I strongly favor the first interpretation of this stunning feat of life. However, I do wonder how the laws will deal with them if one of them commits a crime, for example. They have a driver's license, and had to take a driving test each. How does that work in case of accidents? If they give birth, who's child is it? Can they both marry the same person? If they marry, how does love-making work? I have so many questions that I'd love to ask them...

Global warming is real

Global warming, or more extensively, global climate change, is very real. When some crackpot says it just ain't so, I think someone must show that it just is.

Talking about the logic behind the Big Bang evidence (okay, really just saying that he is talking about the logic), Jake Jones says
The same kind of logic that Al Gore and his people apply to the "Global Warming" theory. Oh my....I'm shaking like a leaf....and it's because the Arctic ice is at the same level now as in 1979 the same year that the same scientists predicted a possible mini Ice Age (Google it). Al Gore's theory on Global Warming is just that, not much different than Darwin's "Theory" of Evolution, but that's another article.
But here's the evidence:

The arctic ice-cap is disappearing.
From The Vanishing of the Arctic Ice Cap.

The Yellowstone supervolcano

Recently there has been several earthquakes in Wyoming, which some experts have taken to mean that the chance that Yellowstone's supervolcano is about to erupt. As they say on Volcanic Hazards of yellowstone National Park
Eventually the unrest will culminate in a large earthquake or volcanic eruption.
This is a pretty scary read. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago (unless you're a YEC, in which case it was in early 2008).

The chance of an eruption any time soon is abysmally low, according to some geologists.
Park geologist Hank Heasler said the odds of a cataclysmic eruption at Yellowstone any time soon are astonishingly remote — about the same as a large meteorite hitting the Earth. The last such eruption occurred 640,000 years ago. The last eruption of any kind at Yellowstone was a much smaller lava flow about 70,000 years ago.
"Statistically, it would be surprising to see an eruption the next hundred years," Lowenstern said.
But if it should erupt, consider this:
A super-eruption has the potential to cover the United States in 3 feet of ash from a plume. Pyroclastic flow would engulf the greater part of three states, and there is evidence that the last major 'super' eruption plunged the world into a freezing, volcanic winter that lasted a decade. An eruption would devastate world agriculture, severely effect the distribution of food and cause mass famine.

This diagram shows the potential range of the total destruction.

Luckily, Las Vegas is located just outside this area of total destruction, so we'll be fine.

On average

The average, when it means the mean, of something is mathematically very easy to calculate. I doubt that it's necessary to refresh anyone's mind, but just on case: the mean of a set of numbers is the sum of those numbers divided by the number of numbers. And recall that two sets of numbers can have the same mean, and yet have different distributions. The shape can be different (e.g. a uniform vs. a Poisson distribution), and if the type of distribution is the same for two sets, then the variance can be different, while the mean is still the same.


The set {4,5,6} and the set {1,5,9} both have mean, µ=5, but their variance is different (greater for the second set).

If two sets of numbers have different means, then a random drawing from the set with the higher mean is expected to yield a higher value. In other words, drawing one number at random from each set will more often than not result in a greater number from the set with the higher mean, compared to the set with the lower mean, if the two sets are drawn from the same type of distribution (e.g. Gaussian).

Take men and women. Men are on average taller than women. If you need something from the top shelf, then it's a safer bet to ask a random man than a random woman. Clear as crystal. That some women are very tall and many women are taller than many men doesn't change this. And yet, I have many times heard an objection along the lines of "but my dog's best friend's owner's sister is 6 foot 5." Aha. Fascinating. Where are you going with this? Most often people are just trying to carry a conversation. Real life examples are often more interesting than statistics.

But sometimes people revert to this irrelevant case-by-case argument even when talking about statistics. If we talk about the requirements for becoming a firefighter, for example. The physical requirements are quite tough, so we can ask what that would mean for the gender distribution of firefighters. If we posit that men are - on average - stronger than women, then the expectation would be that more men than women become firefighters (ignoring all other qualifications and personal preferences, which I here assume to be similar for the two sexes).

For example, if someone had said the following, then that person would be completely ignorant of this significance of averages.
What makes you define women as "the weaker sex"? There's significant overlap in the distribution of body mass and strength between men and women. Some people are stronger than I am. Some people are weaker than I am. That includes both men and women. And I, as a woman, often hold the door for others of either gender.
Yes, this woman may be stronger than some men, but that doesn't change the fact that women on average are not as strong as men, does it?

Additionally, if men and women have different averages in many physical traits (e.g. strength, height, weight, speed, lung capacity, sleep requirement, vision acuity, hearing, etc.), and if having an excellent score in all of these is imperative for fighting fires, then there will be a difference in the physical qualifications between men and women - on average. That is, averaging or scoring these eight averages in some way relevant to the physical requirements of firefighters would not be expected to cancel out exactly, even when men score better on some on average and women better on others on average. That job performance depends on just one trait thus doesn't mean that we should suddenly expect men and women to be equally likely to become firefighters (again, assuming all non-physical qualifications as well as interest are identical). A comment like this one would be an illustration of failing to understand this important aspect of averages:
Bjorn, I can think of lots of differences on average. Considering that the traits you mention are all distributions with nearly 100% overlaps between the sexes, considering that job performance never depends on just one trait (or is evaluated on just one), and considering that any differences also result in jobs where women outperform men, I don't see how any of them would lead to an overall gender imbalance in pay.
Apart from the fact that "100% overlaps" doesn't really make any sense whatsoever any which way one tries to understand it, this comment about paying men and women differently misses the point that if physical characteristics make any difference in who gets hired anywhere, then it will also contribute to a difference in salary between men and women overall.

"But my best friend's mother earns twice as much as her father...!" Fascinating. Did I forget to mention that we're talking on average?