February 4th, 2010

#1923: Cargo-cult science

Mike Flynn has an LJ page, and while reading it I came across this gem. In it, he posts a comment from a reader which I have reproduced here:
Personal anecdote:

Last spring when I was shopping around for a new source of funding, after having my funding slashed to zero 15 days after going public with a finding about natural climate variations, I kept running into funding application instructions of the following variety:

Successful candidates will:

1) Demonstrate AGW.
2) Demonstrate the catastrophic consequences of AGW.
3) Explore policy implications stemming from 1 & 2.

Follow the money — perhaps a conspiracy is unnecessary where a carrot will suffice.
Opposing toxic pollution is not synonymous with supporting AGW.
Emphasis mine; let me give a counter-example to show how scientifically heinous that is.
Successful candidates will:

1) Demonstrate there is no link between cancer and smoking
2) Demonstrate the catastrophic consequences of banning smoking
3) Explore policy implications stemming from 1 & 2.
Or how about this?
Successful candidates will:

1) Demonstrate the Earth is flat.
2) Explain how one can travel "around the world".
3) Explore the implications of a universe with a flat Earth.
Do you understand what I'm saying?

The grant is only given out to people who are going to say that AGW is proven, and it's not science if you are not always questioning your results.

Richard Feynman did a talk about this kind of crap--it's where I got the title for this post--and he very eloquently made the point that if you try to skew your results to prove something that isn't true, you're not doing science. Instead you're doing something that kinda-sorta looks sciency, but isn't.

* * *

I added Flynn to my friends list. He had a series of books--I think Firestar was the first in the series--which were near term SF about a rich woman who wanted to keep asteroids from hitting Earth. It was a great read.

In general I don't read the blogs of SF authors, even the ones I like. (Pournelle is an exception, and I don't even read his blog all that often.) I don't because the SF field--like any other genre--is chock full of leftists who can't cotton to right-wingers like me, not even a little bit; and the leftier they are, the more annoying their blogs are.

Joe Haldeman is prototypical. I used to read Haldeman's site, but I realized that ol' Joe didn't really like coming to Iowa to hit ICON, even though he was the con's "founding father", so to speak. He regarded it as a chore ("I have to go to corn-land") and talked about visiting Iowa the way most coastal liberals do, as if he were descending into downtown Hicksville. I got sick of his elitist attitude.

I also got tired of his Bush Derangement Syndrome. Earth to Joe: the Democrats lost the 2000 elections. If Gore had won his home state, Florida would not have mattered. All the Supreme Court did was to make Florida follow its own damn election laws.

Having perused the past 60 or 80 entries of Flynn's blog, I think I can stand to read it. So onto the list it went.

* * *

WTF is wrong with Toyota? The Prius now has a possible recall in its future, for brake problems.

The Prius--being an overcomplex parallel hybrid--has software logic which uses the electric motor for regenerative braking. A software glitch would be enough to make them seem slow to apply when the driver requests braking. Theoretically, if the driver hits the brake with authority the brakes should be unconditionally applied; but God knows what the software looks like. Besides, once you get a piece of software running on a computer with a bunch of other software, weird things can start happening.

But the Prius brakes are not--as far as I know--"drive by wire". (I don't think anyone has DbW brakes on automobiles yet, not even the big expensive luxury brands.) That means there's a mechanical link between the brake pedal and the brake master cylinder, and a hydraulic link between that and the slave cylinders at the wheels: you should be able to get the car to stop even if the software fails completely. (It might take a ton of effort, but it should work.)

The best I can tell, the Prius controls its braking via the antilock brake system; the computer holds off applying the friction brakes in order to maximize regenerative braking, which is stupid. One discussion mentioned that it seems as if--under certain conditions--the computer spends so much time figuring out the most efficient way to apply the brakes that it never actually gets around to applying them. (And the "certain conditions" were not all that uncommon.)

Too much damn gagetry leads to unexpected mechanical failure modes. That's a fancy way of restating Murphy's Law.

* * *

So is Dakota Fanning hoping to be a present-day Brooke Shields? First the statutory rape scene, now this.

Whatev. I'm just glad I don't have to go see this crap.

* * *

I don't understand how the hell this can happen: 26-year-old didn't know she was pregnant? With triplets?

The story gives no details about the woman's condition (fat, skinny) or the weight of the babies, but how do you start to give birth and not think to summon an ambulance? I'd think the contractions alone would be enough to make you think, "Hey...wait a second!" The water breaking, maybe? Would that do it?

How the hell do you give birth and not call 911?

* * *

An early release program generates its usual dividends. Yes, if you let violent offenders out of prison early, enough of them will commit violent crimes that you should not let any of them out early.

* * *

Wear your goddamned seat belts, people!

* * *

Canada's socialized medical system is so great, Danny Williams, premier of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, came to the US to get heart surgery.
The popular 59-year-old politician has discovered that nothing is for free. He's somewhere in the US today -- prepping for heart surgery.

Seems the procedure he needs simply isn't available in Newfoundland -- at any price.

And, with his own health on the line, he prefers to put his trust in the "second-rate, profit-driven health-care behemoth" south of the St. Lawrence, rather than try a hospital in Canada.

"Ultimately, we have to be the gatekeepers of our own health," said Williams' deputy premier, "and he has taken medical advice from a number of different sources."
How can that be? Canada's system is so good, so enviable! How can the man possibly get a procedure in the US that he can't get in Canada? I mean, things are so bad here women have to pay for their own abortions!

* * *

The Democrats know that Social Security is creaking ominously, and that it's not going to get any better. That's why they want to seize control of your 401(k)s and IRAs: the money will get dumped into the general fund and they'll be able to spend it, and they'll give you disbursements according to whatever rules the bureaucrats care to foist on us.

...so as long as the dollar doesn't collapse, it will even work, sort of.

Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. The government collects money (taxes) from our paychecks and spends the money, and puts an IOU in a file folder somewhere. The money only exists as a bookkeeping entry; it's not saved or invested. So when it comes time for you to collect your Social Security, in fact the government is paying you with someone else's taxes.

This cannot be supported ad infinitum, particularly not with the Democrats spending about $1.72 for every dollar the government takes in.

* * *

How to hide an airplane factory. Damn cool.

* * *

Moon tourism by 2020? I didn't believe NASA when they told us we'd go back to the Moon in 2018. Can private enterprise do it?

For sure I won't be able to afford it, even if I am given a magic monkey which craps $100 bills.

Maybe someday in the distant future I can get to the Moon the way D.D. Harriman did--bribe a couple of barnstormers and end up dying shortly after arrival*--but I'd rather get there while I'm still healthy enough to withstand the acceleration.

*Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Sold The Moon

* * *

Speaking of which:

Liking XKCD is one of the requirements for keeping your nerd union card. That guy in the hat is such a dick.

* * *

Shamus reviews Lord of the Rings Online:
Instead of the standard MMOG exclamation mark this game uses a flaming ring as the symbol for "This bloke has a quest for you, why don't you chat him up?" Not just any ring, but the icon is obviously The One Ring. The single most evil object in the history of the entire world. This is like using a pentagram containing a flaming swastika made of horned skulls as the universal symbol for "help wanted."
That would probably get you a lot of applicants, but expect them to be a little...odd.

#1924: Toyota recalling the Prius


More detail from Jalopnik on the problem with brakes on the Prius. "Toyota admits there's a problem and, oh Lord, it's a software issue. There's a 'disconnect' in the ABS and it'll lag one second before it starts braking." One second is an eternity when you're about to run into something.

The software has been patched, but not in many cars which have already been sold. So Toyota's got to recall all the cars and have dealers update the software.

* * *

Beat this woman with a bastinado. Cats do not need their ears pierced. This woman is a sicko.

* * *

The Democrat candidate for Lieutenant Governor has been accused of holding a knife to his ex-girlfriend's throat. Years ago.

...looks like the Democrats decided the wrong guy won the nod. Quinn--who won the Dem nod for governor--is calling on the guy to step aside.

* * *

Obama spoke at some prayer breakfast, and kept referring to a "corpseman". He meant corpsman, of course.

Looks like the teleprompter doesn't include a pronunciation guide.

Any guesses on what the late-night talk show hosts would joke about if he were a Republican?

By the standards expressed to me some years ago, Obama is unqualified to be President, because he makes mistakes and misspeaks.

* * *

No, I don't think the guy who told me that is applying the same standard to Obama that he applied to George W. Bush.

* * *

The GPS performed flawlessly today when I used it in the truck.

I noted a couple of places where the database was wrong about the speed limits--one place the GPS said it was higher than the posted limit, and in one place it was lower--but otherwise it was dead on.

The impressive thing: the default setting for the color scheme on the screen auto-changes according to whether it's light or dark outside. At night it drops the brightness, too. You can set it to whatever you like, but the defaults are damn good. I have to wonder how it decides when to change; I assume it's got some kind of calculating algorithm, especially since if you check out the "world clock" applet you can get to a map of the planet showing where the sun is shining.

Visibility of the screen on a cloudy morning was excellent. I haven't seen it in sunlight yet.

So the thing is a bit bigger than a deck of cards. It receives satellite signals and figures out where it is in the world; then displays a map (in color) showing where you're at and which way you're facing. It also computes your speed, and relates that to where you have told it you want to go, and figures out a route for you, using roads, based on an internal database. Said database covers the entire continental United States. This takes a considerable amount of computing power.


The power cord, of course, is not long enough for me to route it around the windshield. Since it ends with a mini USB plug--the unit is charged through its USB socket--I can't fab up a patch cord. I'm going to have to try to find some kind of extension cable with the right ends.

* * *

Wikipedia entry on GPS.

* * *

And now I'm going to go lay down.