Zero Sum
How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress. — Neils Bohr
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Substance: WordPress Style: Rachel
Posted May 22nd, 2018 by ravi    / Permalink /

From technocrats to garden variety "independents" who reject partisan politics, the greatest danger to society lies in the apolitical stance.


The spokesperson added: “Our search and recommendation systems reflect what people search for, the number of videos available, and the videos people choose to watch on YouTube. That’s not a bias towards any particular candidate; that is a reflection of viewer interest.”

Posted May 12th, 2018 by ravi    / Permalink /

From the New York Times:

Consolidation in the pharmaceutical world has diminished the number of manufacturing plants, so production problems at a single site can have tremendous repercussions, said Michael Ganio, director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Posted May 4th, 2018 by ravi    / Permalink /

Vox has a post with legal opinion on Giuiliani and Trump’s admission that Trump was aware of the money paid to Stormy Daniels and has repaid Cohen the amount. The analysis by Douglas Spencer at the University of Connecticut is the most insightful one of the lot. Spencer correctly points out that admitting he was aware of Cohen’s payout helps Trump’s potential argument that this was a matter of personal, and not political, safety. This achieves legal safety for Trump at the cost of political harm. But one thing that we have learnt in the Trump era is that no controversy can inflict political damage, especially on the Right, when tribal identity is assured.

Last nights revelation by Giuliani changes the political landscape much more than the legal one. The central legal question has not changed: When Michael Cohen wired $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford, was he trying to prevent Melania from learning about Clifford’s allegations or trying to prevent voters in Michigan from hearing these allegations?

Trump’s acknowledgment that he was personally involved in the payment may actually help his legal argument. I think the defense that this was about protecting Trump’s marriage would be very weak if Michael Cohen had acted alone. Why would Cohen care about Melania’s perception of Trump more than Trump himself? The Melania defense is much stronger now.

Politically, however, the president of the United States has acknowledged paying hush money to a porn actress and acknowledged that he knowingly and willfully lied to the press when asked about it.

Posted May 2nd, 2018 by ravi    / Permalink /

Miles Howard in The Outline:

It goes like this. The 2008 recession may have cratered the wages and employment prospects for people just entering the job market, but according to the myth of the American Millennial, the real problem young people have today is themselves.

Nearly a decade after the crash, the mainstream media still seems hell-bent on portraying people born between 1982 and 2004 as a bunch of decadent and “fun-employed” narcissists who piss their parents’ money away on matcha green tea lattes, spend too much time Instagramming their pets, and are thus responsible for the economic rut they’re stuck in.
This myth — which scrubs millions of underprivileged Millennials from the picture — is crucial to understanding why the media is swooning over the Frugalwoods right now.

Posted May 11th, 2017 by ravi    / Permalink /

Medicaid currently finances about 45% of all births in the United States. Trumpcare (AHCA) slashes Medicaid by $880 billion over 10 years. How is this pro-life?

Posted Apr 7th, 2017 by ravi    / Permalink /

From philosopher Robert Simpson’s essay in Aeon:

I’d propose a third way: put free ‘speech’ as such to one side, and replace it with a series of more narrowly targeted expressive liberties. Rather than locating actions such as protest and whistleblowing under the umbrella of ‘free speech’, we could formulate specially tailored norms, such as a principle of free public protest, or a principle of protected whistleblowing. The idea would be to explicitly nominate the particular species of communication that we want to defend, instead of just pointing to the overarching genus of ‘free speech’. This way the battle wouldn’t be fought out over the boundaries of what qualifies as speech, but instead, more directly, over the kinds of communicative activities we think need special protection.

Intentionality matters. In all but the hard sciences, it’s time to get rid of the outdated idea or hope that we can abstract away the particulars.

Posted Mar 23rd, 2017 by ravi    / Permalink /

The South used to be a slave economy, in which a few lived off the unpaid labour of others. Now it’s leading the way to an economy where all of us can be low-paid slaves. This is also known as “Right to Work”.

Peter Waldman, Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

Allen took a $9-an-hour job on the overnight shift as a janitor. He passed up higher-paying positions on the assembly line, because “the machines scared him,” says Adam Wolfsberger, the former manager at Surge Staffing who hired Allen. The only training he received was where to find the mop and broom, Wolfsberger says.

On April 2, 2013, after Allen had been on the job for about six weeks, a plant supervisor ordered him to put down his broom. He assigned him to work the rest of the shift on one of the metal-stamping presses instead and admonished him not to tell anyone about the job switch.

At about 4 a.m., Allen, wiry and 5 feet 9 inches, was leaning inside the machine with his arms extended upward, loading metal bolts. Suddenly the die, which stamps the metal parts, slammed onto his arms. “It felt like the whole world was coming down on me,” he says. The press operator hadnt noticed him working inside the machine, and Allen’s frame was so slight that the safety beam missed him.

He stood there for an hour, his flesh burning inside the heated press. Someone brought a fan to cool him off. “I was just talking to myself about what my daddy had told me,” Allen says. When emergency crews finally freed him, his left hand was “flat like a pancake,” Allen says, and parts of three fingers were gone.

Posted Mar 15th, 2017 by ravi    / Permalink /

Brian Alexander writing in The Atlantic:

There were other glass companies in Lancaster, drawn there by cheap natural gas. But following a 1937 merger with the New York-based Anchor Cap and Closure, The Hockin, now Anchor Hocking, grew into the world’s largest manufacturer of glass tableware and the second-largest maker of glass containers such as beer bottles and peanut-butter jars. It even played a role in the invention of late-night TV, in 1950, by sponsoring the pioneering NBC show Broadway Open House. Anchor Hocking became Lancaster’s largest employer by far, the rare Fortune 500 company based in a small town. At its peak, it employed roughly 5,000 people there, including executives in the headquarters, and many more in plants around the country.

But then came the 1980s.

Posted Feb 27th, 2017 by ravi    / Permalink /

As violent anti-democratic forces spurred by a demagogue start to engulf both nations in which I find a home (the USA and India), it may be tempting to recycle the old poem by Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Read More…

Posted Jul 25th, 2011 by ravi    / Permalink /

David DeGusta and Jason Lewis, writing in the New Scientist, raise the question “Is bias inevitable in science?“, and answer:

Stephen Jay Gould claimed unconscious bias could affect even seemingly objective scientific measurements. Not so.

Why not? Because “[scientific] method is so robust” that it can overcome the bias of scientists. Scientific Method has been studied greatly in the fields of History and Philosophy of Science – and cautiously defined and defended, criticised, found wanting or polemically dismissed – but DeGusta and Lewis are, in their piece, not concerned with these arguments, but rather with the particular story of “Gould’s skulls” and what that story tells us about scientific bias.

The backstory in short: In his analysis of the cranial measurements conducted by a 19th century scientist named Samuel Morton, Gould found that Morton had “manipulated his samples, made analytical errors” and mismeasurements. Gould concluded that these errors were a result of Morton’s racist bias.

DeGusta and Lewis go on to update the story with details of the recent effort by Lewis and collaborators to remeasure the crania studied by Morton and their finding that if anything, Morton overmeasured Egyptian crania (not white ones).

And therefore they write, in a passage that arguably summarises their thesis:

Gould was certainly right that all scientists, as humans, have some sort of bias. But while biased scientists are inevitable, biased results are not, as illustrated by Morton (biased) and his data (unbiased, as far as we can tell). Science does not depend on unbiased investigators but on methods which limit the ability of the investigator’s bias to influence the results.

Which raises the question of what method it is that permits the authors to generalise from a single [empirical] finding (the case of Morton’s lack of measurement error despite  the harm to his racist beliefs) to so general a claim as “biased scientists are inevitable, biased results are not” and their answer “Not so” to their own question “Is bias inevitable in science?” (it is worth noting that the title does not restrict itself to scientific measurements).

After all Gould does not claim that all results are inevitably biased. The authors do not provide any direct quotes from Gould in lieu of which I repeat the authors’ summary of Gould’s view: “Stephen Jay Gould claimed unconscious bias could affect even seemingly objective scientific measurements” [emphasis mine]; even they do not suggest that “Stephen Jay Gould claimed unconscious bias affects all objective scientific measurements“.

This is not, I believe, a trivial matter. The authors claim in a self-congratulatory tone that they (one of them) did the obvious thing that Gould had failed to do – to wit, remeasure the skulls. At the same time, they also claim that Gould’s thesis pertains primarily to “objective scientific measurements” or “actual measurements” [emphasis mine]. But if Gould did not actually remeasure the skulls, on what did he base his argument that the measurements were wrong? For this we can look to Gould’s original article:

Morton published all his raw data, and it is shown here that his summary tables are based on a patchwork of apparently unconscious finagling. When his data are properly reinterpreted, all races have approximately equal capacities.

It is worth quoting multiple sections from Gould’s original article to make the point to follow. Gould writes:

Morton … did supply one rare and precious gift to later analysts: he published all his primary data… I have reanalyzed Morton’s data and I find that they are a patchwork of assumption and finagling[.]


[…] Morton’s method is suspect from the start for two reasons. First, he did not distinguish male from female skulls…. Second, he measured capacity by filling the skull with white mustard seed, sieved to reduce variation in grain size.

[Note: I am intentionally leaving out the substantive bits of Gould’s argument in defence of his claim, since they do not pertain to the analysis here of DeGusta and Lewis’s critique.]

What becomes clear in reading Gould’s paper is that contrary to DeGusta and Lewis’s summary, Gould was concerned with the measurement methodology and statistical presentation used by Morton. Having placed a thesis in their opponent’s mind that bias impacts “actual measurements“, DeGusta and Lewis are surprised that Gould did not then regenerate the “actual measurements“. But Gould was content to work with the “primary data” published by Morton – Morton’s “precious gift“. Contrary to DeGusta and Lewis’s apparent understanding, it should be clear from the quoted sections above that Gould’s claim is not that bias miraculously jumps from the scientist’s mind into the measuring devices and thence to the raw data.

Time and again, Gould in his paper mentions the problem of “finagling” (dictionary: “act in a devious or dishonest matter”) and it’s centrality. An issue dismissed to the margins by DeGusta and Lewis: “extreme bias cannot, short of fraud, influence the results” [emphasis mine]. By mentioning and dismissing the conscious act of fraud, DeGusta and Lewis ineffectively dismiss the “large middle ground” (to borrow a term from Gould) between conscious fraud and objective data.

DeGusta and Lewis end on a celebratory note on the greatness of science (due one assumes to its methodological strength, as they see it, which voids the need for examining such tricky issues as individual motivation). Gould’s derives a very opposite caution from his examples. In examining the Morton episode and the other examples (Newton, Mendel), Gould finds lessons for the scientific community:

I do share the scientist’s faith that “correct” answers exist for most problems, and I believe that fudged data are paramount as impediments to solutions. I only raise what I regard as a pressing issue with two hopes for alleviation — first … we may examine our own activity more closely; second, that we may cultivate, as Morton did, the habit of presenting candidly all our information and procedure, so that others can assess what we, in our blindness, cannot.

In opposition to DeGusta and Lewis’s optimism in the ability of scientific method to limit the effect of the bias of scientists, Gould’s significantly more nuanced position (read the paper linked to above) evinces (as philosophers of science have done before) both the prevalence of (and I would argue the need for) “finagling” or fudging in scientific work and the consequent need to be cognisant of the implications of this fact.

DeGusta and Lewis claim to debunk Gould’s claims of error in Morton’s data. If the remeasurement and reanalysis carried out by Lewis is correct, all that demonstrates is that Morton does not serve as evidence of Gould’s thesis, not that Gould’s thesis is incorrect. Particularly since Gould himself offers additional example of fudging of data by scientists, and many more are available: see the controversy surrounding Eddington’s measurements to purportedly confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Scientists take short cuts (for practical as well as necessary reasons). They base these shortcuts on their beliefs and commitments (ontological, epistemological, political, so on). Science advances because results are held to be provisional, not because “truth is … obtainable” or “science … is self-correcting“. DeGusta and Lewis offer nothing towards contesting this finding of historians and philosophers of science (including Gould), nor do they offer any explanation of how scientific method auto-corrects errors in such shortcuts (unless of course all they mean by scientific method is the mundane processes, not exclusive to science, of examining prior assumptions and conclusions, checking for errors, rigour, so on… none of which equals “self-correcting“).