Mysticism and Scientists

A survey from U Buffalo on the incidence of religiosity among scientists has some insightful statistics.[Link] Sadly, the survey is limited to academic scientists and hence is questionable, although the response fraction was a resounding 0.75, almost text book good for any survey.

  • 0.52 of those surveyed had no religious affiliation, as opposed to 0.14 in the general population;
  • 0.15 of those surveyed professed to be Jewish, as opposed to 0.02 of the general population; and
  • 0.02 professed to be evangelical or fundamentalist as opposed to 0.14 of the general population.

Taking into consideration the obvious skewness since this survey only assessed academic environment scientists, one can draw a few hypotheses but no firm conclusions about scientists in general.

Apparently Judaism is more likely to produce a scientist than other religions.

Being an academic scientist makes one less likely to go to church (or temple).

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More Teeth

While we’re on old stuff there is a wrinkle on the recent discovery of 10 KY old squash. [Link] The dating of this discovery makes the earliest instances of new and old world agriculture (observed thus far) almost contemporaneous.

What makes this interesting is that it suggests that agriculture had already begun prior to the end of the last cold phase and that it had already spread to the areas on the boundaries of the glaciers.

The idea is that human movement to the new world had to occur while sufficient water was entrained in the glaciers for the Bearing land bridge to exist but late enough for the gap between the two main North American glaciers to have formed. That is, unless the migrants went by boat and could avoid having to get through the glaciers. The problem with the latter theory is that evidence of boats is lacking – so far.

It had been argued previously that agriculture developed later in the new world than the old because of the delayed necessity of it in the new world. Now the almost contemporaneous early dates argue for a single rather than a dual development of agriculture earlier than previous thought.

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The Tooth

I have heard it claimed that hunting, gathering, prostitution, priesthood, priesthood-prostitution, and laziness are the world’s oldest profession. Now we may have to add dentist to that list. [Link]

Researchers in Spain have unearthed a genus homo tooth that is 1-1.2 MY old. The photograph and my limited knowledge of tooth topography conspire to prevent my identifying where the tooth likely resided in the mouth. It appears to be a single rooted tooth and despite wear to be in reasonably good shape – no obvious pathologies.

Its also not likely to be a sapiens tooth.

The tooth is supposedly the oldest human remains found in Western Europe.

The interesting question, aside from species, is how the tooth got separated from skull/jaw?

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On Surveys

No, this is not another rant about the ineffectuality of the Yankee Congress. Instead, the theme grows out of an old saying that “in order to ask a question, you must already know most of the answer.” The problem I want to address is when the question asker doesn’t know.

This got started by an article [Link] on “How not to survey your customers.” Now, surveys are a frequently used instrument of trying to get some insight into the unspoken perception. When I was President of a professional society I used surveys a couple of times to try to find out the views of the vast majority who never attended the annual business meeting and if they did, never aid anything. And, of course, I am the target of surveys often enough or more so.

From my perspective there are a couple of major issues with surveys. The first has to do with the questions being asked. Fundamentally, the question may have to do with something that I don’t think is important, but the nature of the survey is that the folks who made up the instrument think it is. Am I wrong or are they?

The second is related to the first. Unless the survey is going to a fairly small audience, most if not all of the questions are multiple choice. The difficulty I then have is that the choices of answers, which are in effect the askers binning of the answer space, are all irrelevant or vastly inconsistent with what I want to answer. This is the second greatest cause of people “punching out” of surveys – they get involved in the survey and then run across a question that has no valid (offered) answer and they just drop things right there.

I should mention there is also a fraction of the audience who either tosses the survey right away, or never gets around to it. Some of these people think their lives are too complicated or their time too valuable to take a survey. Some just don’t care.

The third issue is statistical significance. This is usually achieved by asking the same question multiple times with slight changes in statement or answer choices. This is the primary reason for people who start surveys to “punch out”. They invariably observe that they have answered the question before and that their time and attention span are being wasted.

This is why a survey response of 0.5 is great and 0.3 is typical. Read and heed.

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On Caller ID

I see that the Yankee Congress has introduced a bill to make it a crime for everyone except the Yankee government to misuse Caller ID.[Link] This prescription will evidently only be applied to ordinary citizens, not to the Gestapo, SS, Homeland Defense, or any other agency of the Yankee government.

I have to admit that it might be difficult to conduct a sting operation if one’s caller ID displayed “FBI Sting Unit”. Aside from the obvious ethical and moral questionability of using deceit and deception to combat actions contrary to laws of the third kind, themselves sometimes of questionable ethical and moral nature, this may not be such a bad power for the tyranny to possess. Certainly it adds little over unmarked vehicles and muftied officers.

My real complaint is what this will not do. I get exceeding tired of calls with useless caller IDs – unknown, or blocked, or whatnot. Such are not only the result of phone company economies but also of deliberate deception on the part of callers such as the professional offices of physicians and solicitors. I should much more prefer that the caller ID be required under penalty of law, with easy and concrete citizen reportage and enforcement, of accuracy. The caller ID should convey positive information for us to decide whether to answer or not, not some ambiguity that keeps us in suspense until the answering machine kicks in.

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Michangelo and Negroponte

Several years ago a best selling novelized biography, later turned into a moving picture, about the painter Michaelangelo was entitled the Agony and the Ecstasy, referring to the difficulties associated with the painter’s career, notably of dealing with the catholic church instrumentality, and the great beauty that were the painter’s works.

Now we find something comparable in the work of Nicholas Negroponte and the One-Laptop-Per-Child program.[Link] It seems that 300 laptops were presented to a shul in Nigeria. The agony is that the shul has no electricity. The ecstasy is that the students are finding way around this.

I could crudely mention that the reportage makes no mention of how they connected to the internet, but that injects reality into a fairly tale.

I could also cynically comment that we shall wait and see if the formula of one child – one laptop sticks; whether the laptops are sold off for food or drugs; whether the laptops survive the conditions; whether the children learn; whether it makes a difference.

But rather I should like to revel in this event, the initiation of an effort that has such potential for the survival of humanity as a species. The occasion points up the need to abide autocratic visionaries, the need to transcend the marketplace for the good of all, the wonderment of altruism. Such come all too seldom in our modern world, perhaps no more often that they did in years past. Perhaps it is not the fault of the frivolous, mercenary media; perhaps it is indeed a rare event.

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Planetary Bathtub

I grew up in a household where tub baths were the norm and showers the exception. In such, as a child, I normally viewed bath time as a period for play and up until I was several years into shul, toys accompanied me to tub. Most of these toys were nautical in nature, my father being a navy veteran.

In January of 1992, a ship bound for the Seattle region dumped ~ 29K rubber duckies (and other animals) overboard during a storm.[Link] I vaguely recall the news a few weeks later as the first of the wayward tub critters made their way ashore in the Pacific Northwest as jetsam. There was some indignation from environmental groups that aquatic animals who swallowed/ate the critters would be impaired even unto discorporation but this was largely oblivious for the media who concentrated on the cute factor.

Now, I read that the critters are about to wash ashore on the coast of Cornwall. As memory serves, this will be only the latest of invasions on this piece of coast. There is evidence that the Phoenicians came here long before the island was a Roman province, looking for tin. One has to wonder how the duckies’ invasion will be viewed. Certainly these plastic tourists will not bring their plastic money but at least they will have left weapons at home and not abuse the local women.

The metaphor is, of course, mixed. The modern view of rubber duckies is shaped both by the duck character in the Tom and Jerry cartoon as well as the merchandising melanoma of MalWart. I seem to recall that such are commonly used these days for various aquatic races, the ones I recall, such as one in nearby Gadsden, often associated with some public or charitable cause. This one certainly qualifies as an endurance if not a time race. But one suspects such would have gladden the hearts of both Phileas Fogg and the Great Leslie.

One does also hope that the arrival is not taken to associate with some supernatural intervention although perhaps the mystic adoration of such, akin to stories woven by Garrison Keeler in description of his fictional but nonetheless authentic home town, would be less destructive than the science denying, bomb building mysticism so widespread in the world.

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Job Appraisal

I see that the previous governor of the Great State of Alibam has been handed a seven year prison term by the Yankee government. [Link] The former chief executive officer of the corrupt HealthSouth corporation was given a lesser sentence but a greater fine.

There seem to be several lessons in this affair that appear to be rooted in politics. The most obvious of these is the greater sentence handed down to the former governor than to the corporate oligarch. The rationale for this will likely be that the crime was greater for the former governor as an elected official enjoying the public trust.

One has to question that attitude. I remember viewing a television address by an Alibam governor, who was clearly inebriated at the time, declaiming that he was a crook but he was the peoples’ crook. I fear that the young age when I saw this and what I have seen since have ingrained this into my view of state and lower, if not federal, government. The issue is not whether elected politicians will steal and do wrong, but whether they will do so in the execution of their duties.

Sadly, this latter qualification is often difficult to ascertain. The former state chief executive claims that he took a “donation” from the former CEO so he could retire a debt incurred in association with the governor’s attempt to enact lottery legislation. A vision that an education lottery will benefit the state is one of the former governor’s core concepts that has been consistently rejected by the superstition and mysticism ridden electorate of the state. The matter has nothing to do with any logic or analysis but has been solely determined by often hypocritical religious beliefs that one makes an individual decision whether one gambles but imposes a ban on all others doing so. Hence the popularity of other states’ lotteries throughout Alibam.

In this regard it is unclear whether there is any substantive difference between the current and former governors other than political party. That the current governor has engaged in questionable contracting practices that have enriched the state’s corporate oligarchs is common knowledge. There is also little doubt that the incumbent has spent more taxpayer money on advertising his improvements than has been spent on the improvements themselves. It is thus unclear if he has been as diligent in fulfilling the public’s trust as his predecessor. The most obvious difference is their political affiliation.

It also seems noteworthy that the corporate oligarch received less incarceration but a greater monetary penalty. Given the holdings of the two however, the greater fine was a lesser one fractionally. Hence the obvious criminal here receives the lesser sentence overall. Aside from the clear criminal or at lest, self serving, intent, the only obvious differences here are political affiliation and personal wealth.

There may be some lessons to be learned here. The obvious one is that health care needs to be divorced from the profit marketplace. The second is that perhaps we need a law somewhat akin to that of the English that an elected official cannot be held liable to petty legal offenses committed during their term?

Or maybe we need a way to dispose of political parties entirely?

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IT Mumbles

PHYSORG has a noteworthy article [Link] on whether one should buy an iPhone. I was especially taken by one statement:

Maybe, but using it mainly as a phone seems like a waste.

Apparently the iPhone is not a very useful nor cost efficient phone. In fact, the only folks that the articles suggests should purchase the beast are streaming video and fashion addicts.

In other words, sort of a pacifier for the chronologically adult but mentally immature.

Meanwhile the Yankee government’s Federal Trade Commission has issued a report urging the congress critters and furniture lords to proceed cautiously on the matter of network neutrality. [Link] What this appears to mean is that the situation with network neutrality is too complex for their analysts to make any headway on. At least we hope it is that and not an exercise of them washing their hands over the two warring sides of corporate interests in the matter. Surely we cannot expect any agency of the Yankee government to consider the welfare of the citizenry?

Nonetheless this is welcome news after all the trumpeting of the increasing totalitarianism of government, especially that in the Yankee republic.

On a somewhat more interesting note, there is announcement [Link] that a beta version of Google Desktop for Linux is being released. While I have to admit to having only recently come to Linux and am still learning, I have to admit to no great emotion here. Linux is already fairly well fleshed out with calendars and RSS aggregators and the like. What does this offer?

I also have to admit to having seen a demonstration of Google Desktop for the PC. Luckily I had brought a book along and had something to occupy my attention from the presentation of non-features. But maybe there is more to the Linux version?

And in an improvement over this effort by Google we see a report that Australian zoologists at U Adelaide are extracting thylacine DNA from stercus. [Link] For those who don’t recall, thylacine is not a biochemical, as one might expect, but rather a variety of marsupial carnivore, the so-called “Tasmanian tiger” that was last observed in the wild in 1918 and in captivity in 1936.

If the DNA is indeed that of the tyger then this will indicate their continued existence into the 1960’s and hence offer some hope for a few still surviving in the wild.

We expect an announcement from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute – aka Auburn U – that they will undertake a cloning effort.

And for those who mumble that DNA has nothing to do with IT? You need to think on it before you engage your vocal cords.

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Road Trip!

Despite objections by the Smithsonian over fragility, the remains of the Australopithecus Afarensis Lucy will be making a tour of the Yankee republic.[Link] Sadly, the tour will be limited to large city museums in places that are hard to get to and costly of travel. All of the stops haven’t been finalized according to the reportage, so one can hope that they will be coming somewhere closer to Greater Metropolitan Arab than Houston.

Since the Smithsonian quailed Lucy won’t be coming to the District. This probably won’t be noticed since australopithecines are fairly common. They can be found wherever politicians and political appointees are.

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