WickedEye's Quotient

3/30/2006 at 23:34

IDiots, Movies, & the Scientific Method

Below is the text of a post I wrote to Paramount’s “Blogging Sundance” page; Cal’s entry on their upcoming ID movie led me there and into the observation of an, um, ongoing discussion. One of the IDiots posting there hacked me off with his false and unsupported assertions, so I dug up some references which would enable him to correct his inadvertent malapropisms (incurable optimist that I am).

If you ignore the (very thinly) veiled mockery, it’s actually a pretty good set of references on the definitions underlying the scientific method, as well as on the method itself.

16. Doug-

The reason you may not have been able to understand what Calladus is talking about is that he assumed- erroneously, it turns out- that you were familiar with the basic concepts relevant to the dialogue.

Firstly, you appear to be ignorant of what in fact constitutes science- its definition, if you will- and what does not. To remedy this lack, might I suggest that you read David Goodstein's "Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: How Science Works". This document does not once refer to biology, since its author is a Professor of Physics and Vice Provost at Caltech; nonetheless, he does have some experience with the practice of science. The document is located here:

I refer you particularly to page 7 and the first paragraph of page 8, in which Goodstein explains how scientific theories are tested in actual practice, rather than in ideal circumstances.In order to understand pages 7 and 8, however, you will need to understand the definition of the word "falsifiable". Here, happily, I can be of more direct assistance in providing the information; the entry on "falsifiable" on the Princeton University online dictionary, WordNet 2.1- again, not associated with evolutionary theory, biology, or "ID", but still admitted to have some lexical authority- reads:
S: (adj) confirmable, verifiable, falsifiable (capable of being tested (verified or falsified) by experiment or observation)

Lastly, since you now have the background to understand the document, below is a link to an explanation of the scientific method. Again, lest I be accused of referring you to someone who has an "anti-ID" agenda in mind when formulating their explanation, the link is to a source which has so far been entirely neutral on the subject of evolution, and which is universally acknowledged to have a fair amount of science knowledge- NASA:

Now that you have the proper context for the words you are using and the concepts you were mishandling, you can reformulate your statement so that it makes sense in the context of the general use of the English language.

If you wish to propound or defend a theory, please demonstrate a mastery of- or at least the capacity for the correct use of- the language and vocabulary in which you plan to explicate it.

at 11:01


These guys aren’t whores.

Or johns. And calling them pimps would be a stretch, unless you assumed that every pimp was a sociopathically indifferent, bloodthirsty swindler who callously capitalized on his position in order to profit from some of the most ignorant and defenseless members of society.

All right- I see your point. Notwithstanding the fact that I’ve known (platonically) a pimp or two, the description above’s accurate but for one particular: pimps aren’t swindlers. The merchandise, such as it is, gets delivered.

So, okay, these guys are pimps. Uber-pimps. In every way described above and then some- except one. They don’t deliver what you pay for- or rather, you pay much more than you should for tricks you don’t want or need.

These guys are the University of Phoenix, which has made exploitation of the laboring masses into an art so fine that it raked in 700 million dollars in profit last year. The fact that most of that money comes from taxpayers (in the form of federal education grants and loans) is just the icing on the cake.

To digress for a moment: I probably don’t need to issue disclaimers on my snobbery any more- it should certainly be clear by now. All the same, I’ll state explicitly that I’m one of the last people on earth who can be objective about online colleges.

I love classes- lectures, homework, syllabi, notetaking, questioning the professor. I’m the annoying, hand-waving know-it-all in the front row whom you hated for asking questions which made the class run overtime, and who increased the material you were responsible for on the exam. I love books- the actual, physical weight of them in my hand; the feel of paper between my fingers as I turn a page. Clearly, I love words and language and writing too.

So, no- I don’t think online colleges come anywhere near offering what I consider to be the elements of a good education.

But that may be bias on my part. Some of the “good” elements in my scenarios are also those I happen to enjoy, and there are a lot of very, very smart people who disagree with me about the ability of online classes to inculcate a thorough understanding of a subject.

Leaving aside that disagreement, however, one thing on which every person to whom I’ve spoken agrees is that, if you choose to take a class, you shouldn’t do so solely because someone who stood to profit from that decision talked you into it.

Remember that $700 million? Do you see the beginnings of a problem here?

Assuming you went to or are going to college: How much did you know about the system of classes, credits, and requirements there at the beginning of your freshman year?

Assuming you haven’t gone: How much do you know about those things- for any college- now?

And for members of either group: Who can you ask about the specifics of a college’s degree requirements without actually being admitted?

I went to Purdue, and up there the answers to the above questions were: Zip. Zilch. Nobody.

Their general information is good, but in order to find out the specifics of a degree program, you have to sit down with an academic counselor for about an hour to chart your course. The same holds true of both the colleges I attended as a postbac student, and of all the graduate programs to which I’ve applied.

Now here’s another hypothetical: Knowing nothing about your chosen program, what if you had to rely for advice and information on someone who was being paid more if you took more- and more expensive- classes?

The ethics are looking even stickier now, aren’t they?

The full Nation article, linked above, is appalling- and not just for snobs like me.

Education as a product- well, my every synapse screams in outrage, but mine is not the popular opinion. Even popular opinion, however, holds that a promised and paid-for product should be shaped and, ideally, delivered by those who don’t stand to profit outrageously, and with impunity, from misleading their customers.

The above modest assessment of the problems involved, by the way, assumes that you’re one of the lucky students who doesn’t have to worry about getting chiseled out of your money. One of the things the Education Department Inspector General’s Office found in its investigation of UoP was that it owed students over $10 million in unreturned tuition payments- in other words, tuition payments it fraudulently kept when it shouldn’t have.

But that, as Kipling would say, is another story.

3/29/2006 at 23:36

Another Blogger Error

Is anyone else having problems with Blogger's "Profile Views" number not changing? That section of my profile page hasn't moved from "181" since January '06- pretty frustrating.

I've checked a couple of other fairly active Blogger profiles on and off for the past month or so as well, and their "Profile Views" numbers haven't changed either. What gives?

3/17/2006 at 07:26

In matters concerning religion and politics...

...a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's. –Mark Twain in Eruption (Bernard DeVoto, Ed.)

Rewarding richly people who corrupt science with theology (and make no mistake, importing ideas which are not, under any conceivable circumstances, falsifiable is a corruption of science), in an attempt to shore up ideas which are faltering because of the fact that they are empirically untenable, seems like the worst kind of desperately wishful thinking- something akin to a horrifically ugly wealthy man who pays high-priced prostitutes to tell him he’s devastatingly handsome.

On a not entirely unrelated note, the recipient of this year’s Templeton Prize was announced this past Wednesday.

The recipient is, by all accounts, an accomplished and talented mathematician & playwright. I would add to that “procurer”; and I’ve always thought that a scientist who prostitutes science to fit her or his own prejudices is one of the worst possible kinds of pimps.

They make a pretty team, don’t they? John, pimp- whore. I guess it’s pretty intuitive.

The whore? The anthropic principle.

Basically, the anthropic principle says that the probabilities attached to physical/cosmological properties are weighted in favor of those values which allow the development of life. Why? Because most of the ways the universe could have developed wouldn’t have allowed for life (or at least, the types of life with which we’re familiar).

But look- we’re here! This clearly means that the odds- never mind that the actual concept of probability has by now been decapitated- were weighted in our favor.

We might not have been here, but we are here, so clearly we’re meant to be here and the odds were weighted in our favor (said the bacteria in the garbage can).

Does anyone see something wrong with this- and I use the following word in the sense of “illogic”- logic?

Sheer brilliance. ‘Tautology’ barely describes it.

This is the heart of the “physics research” which won this year’s Templeton Prize for Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, to the tune of about 1.4 million dollars. Quite the fee for this particular prostitute, but then, it’s gotten about 33 years of experience by now.

Any kind of scientific theory, even one in theoretical physics, has got to have some method by which it may be disproved. Gravitational waves, top quarks, Ia supernovae: every theory, no matter how farfetched, must have some set of predicted observations- even if we do not yet have the instruments with which to make them- whose presence would confirm, or lack negate, the basis of its hypothesis.

The anthropic principle, on the other hand- well, guess what? Nah, you probably don’t need to guess. Yep. Nothing.

But then again…

Fluttering eyelashes. “Oh, Mr. Templeton, we were meant to be here,” hands on his arm, “look at the odds against it if it weren’t destined!” Hands move up, and then, “It proves we're favored, it really does,” pressing against his chest, “I couldn’t say who or how, of course,” coy smile, “but it does seem to imply a design of some kind...” loosening his tie…

I guess it’s worth the money.


at 07:23

Blogger Error

This is my first post via email, and a “heads-up” to all you fellow Bloggers out there- or perhaps just anyone who stumbles across it.

I’m driven to email because I can’t post via the wysiwyg editor at Blogger, and haven’t been able to for almost 24 hours now.

There are two errors I’m receiving, the first last night:

1) 001 java.io.IOException: EOF while reading from control conne...- According to obey alan, this means “there is a problem on Blogger.com, go do something important and fiddle with it later.” Fair enough, except for:

2) 550 Could not open: No such file or directoryblog/9/26/1/wickedeye/archives/2006_03_01_wickedeye_arc...- …which means “We like alan much better than we like you.”

When I tried to post again this morning, it threw me the latter new error. Bah. Humbug.

So here am I, dying to share my insights and wisdom (or maybe my sudden flashes of random dullardliness, or maybe just peevishness), and I cannot. The sheer tragedy of it reminds me of Anna Karenina.

Ahem. On with the regularly scheduled program. At some time soon but later than the actual scheduled time. At least, I hope so.

(Note 3/20/06, 12:23 am: Got a heads-up from Calladus that this page is pulling some weird extortionist stunt when it loads- since the only substantive diff. between this and the other posts is the full error messages included in it, I've cut them off with ellipses close to the end. Hopefully this should fix it- thanks, Cal.)

3/15/2006 at 15:21

Books that cannot bear examination...

...certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws.
-John Adams, letter discussing laws which punished citizens for doubting the Bible, to Thomas Jefferson, January 23, 1825 [Courtesy of www.stephenjaygould.org.]

This story’s been all over the internet today, but I couldn’t find an original source, so I’m not citing one. Since Mr. Raskin’s site also contains the quotation, however, we can assume it’s true.

On Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, in Annapolis at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at AU, was requested to testify.

At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: "Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?"

Raskin replied: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

The room erupted into applause.

Ahhhh, the exquisite bliss of having a school of thought summed in two short and cogent sentences. Thank you, Mr. Raskin.


at 13:46

Calladus Blog

I should have linked to Calladus’ blog a long time ago; I check it almost every day, and issues he has examined or written on have many times become the fodder for my later writings. Calladus is an alert and vocal freethinker- honest, articulate, discerning, educated- a true scholar and thinker in the best sense of both words.

The link to his blog is at right, just underneath my Wikipedia link- which should illustrate just how much I value his thoughts, questions, and insights.

3/14/2006 at 12:31

“What the the #$!%* Do We Know?!”- A #$!%* Of A Lot More Than Any Of You

I should say, at the outset of this tirade- it will be nothing less- that I am, in many ways, an unapologetic snob.

Those of you who drop by on a regular basis know this already. Those who don’t will discover it forthwith and be either enraged or amused.

I cannot stand many things. Blatantly poor grammar and spelling from those who claim to be highly educated, people who play music that registers on the Richter scale, neon-colored non-safety clothing, racial slurs, the taste of liver, trying to dry my clothes on an indoor line in monsoon weather.

One of the things- if not the very thing- I detest most on this earth is people who purposefully abuse the truth.

When I say ‘truth’, I am not talking about philosophical truth of any kind- religious, political, literary; I am talking about scientific facts, empirically established and tested, wrested from the deeps of the universe by the consummate ingenuity of mankind. This sort of abuse occurs constantly in human society, but the extreme ends of it- and those who warp subjects close to my heart- infuriate me in a way few other things can.

Everyone close to me knows by now that if they wish to hear me rant until I start foaming at the mouth, there is no better trigger than the mention of the movie named in the title above. I won’t write the name again, because it may very well set off an oral rant in which I fill in the aural blank created by those non-letter symbols very creatively, and then proceed to demonstrate my considerable vocabulary in a precise explication of why the movie to which it is attached, and the people who made that movie, are verminous, imbecilic, and execrable- and I’m at work. I really don’t want to get in trouble over these detestable liars.

I should also disclose my special interest here, which is that quantum theory fascinates me- both in the areas of mechanics and in mechanics’ larger applications to field theory. It has fascinated me since I was 8 years old, and I am familiar with its basics and conversant with its principles, and they have been shredded and shat upon by these despicable dolts.

For those of you who are not interested in any area of quantum theory, have no fear. I’ve no intention of expounding on it here. What I am going to do, with some semblance of calm and while avoiding as many epithets as possible, is point out why these cretinous crooks are an insult to any thinking person and a blot and excrescence on human history.

In case any of you don’t know the basic facts about the film already, here they are: this film is the product of a cult in the Pacific Northwest, Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, which believes that a woman named JZ Knight can channel a 35,000-year-old continent-near-Atlantis-conquering sage named Ramtha. No, really. You can read the Salon article on the cult and the movie
here. If you want to read JZ’s gibberish, do a Google search- I’m not polluting my blog with a link to purveyors of this kind of offal.

Every “scientist” who spoke in the film is associated with this cult, with the exception of David Albert, who is a Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and director of Columbia’s graduate program in the philosophical foundations of physics. He has repeatedly and publicly insisted that his views are entirely misrepresented by the filmmakers, who cut and spliced his 5-hour-long interview- in which he explained that their view of quantum theory has no support in the scientific community- in order to make it appear that he supported their beliefs. This, then, is but one example of the kind of desecration of fact consistently displayed throughout the movie.

The central contention of the movie is that, because of the quantum property of superposition, human beings have the ability to consciously, deliberately choose the way they want their lives and the world they live in to be, and that the choice thus made makes itself a reality.

In other words: Choose to believe anything you want, believe it fervently enough, and it will come true.

Now, statements on belief and the realities of the human mind are more susceptible than most to the kind of reductio ad absurdum demonstrated in the last statement. Except that, in this case, it isn’t a reductio ad absurdum. This case is unique, because this really is the premise of the movie. These perjuring thieves twist and despoil the tested, beautifully elaborated triumph of human thought that is quantum theory in an attempt to show that thought can change measurable physical properties.

They mean this statement to be taken literally, though it is utter and complete nonsense. It has never been demonstrated, though people have been trying to prove it for, literally, centuries. But, since the Ramtha gang and their dupes pursue the same noble quest in order to advance the boundaries of human knowledge, I invite any of the proponents of that idea to try the following experiment:

1) Approach a high drop.
2) Consciously decide that g (the acceleration of gravity) is no longer equal to approximately 9.8 meters per second squared.
3) Set g equal to 0.05 meters per second squared.
4) Convince yourself of this truth.
5) Walk off the drop.

Actually, “invite” is the wrong word. “Beg” is a better one. Try it, please. Please. For the sake of all that is good on this earth, try it. For all that is worthwhile in the human mind, try it. In the name, and for the protection, of truth and sense and reason, please, please try it.

Just think of how greatly your efforts will advance our understanding of human consciousness.

I have stated before that science, as practiced via the scientific method, is the greatest attainment of all the measureless wonders of the human mind. The elucidation of quantum theory, from Planck to Einstein to Schrodinger to Dirac to Feynman, and onward, is the crowning triumph of the greatest physical scientists of the twentieth century- figures who stand as tall or taller in the halls of history than scientists like Democritus, Galileo, or Newton.

It is this triumph, these men, and all the history of scientific genius before and after that these vandals- and others like them- are defacing.

And despite my vocabulary, I really have no words for the depth of contempt I feel for that.

3/13/2006 at 14:26

I do not wish them to have power over men, but over themselves. -Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Eve teasing. Nah, it doesn’t have anything to do with an apple. Or a snake. But that scenario might be preferable to this one- Eve had control of her body and her choices.

Calladus’ blog today is on Eve Teasing (the Blank Noise Project’s blog explains the problem more fully). I’d never heard it called that before, but I’m familiar with it. Starting at 12, I was warned by my aunts during my visits to India to stay close to them, to avoid men on the street and the bus, because they would try to pinch and fondle and feel me up in passing.

Yeah, right.

Let me back up a second. For most women, the warning would have been taken as an honest attempt to save discomfort, pain, and embarrassment. But, even though my parents are both from the same hundred-acre village in Kerala (south India), I was born and raised in the States. And, thanks to a truly extraordinary mother, I grew up (hell, still am) mouthy, stubborn, opinionated, outgoing- and, at 12, a tomboy who took those words like a bull takes a flapping cape.

I didn’t, at that age, have any problem scrapping physically, and was utterly unembarrassed at the thought of hitting someone back. You’re going to touch me or my Mom or my aunts when and where we don’t want to be touched?

Okay. Well, I’m a fair person. Turn and turn about. I’ll touch you back. And in a way that you like as little as I did.

On the first shopping trip I loaded up a little bag one of my uncles had bought me (I have 2 brothers and 7 uncles- a little encouragement in the tomboy direction there) with coins and even, when that wasn’t heavy enough, a few rocks from Nana’s yard. I carried it the way Santa Claus carries his sack, slung over my shoulder.

And the first time I felt someone pinch me I hit him with it. Hard.

I heard his gasp- I’d hit when I knew it was unmistakably the right guy- and saw him step away. Well, good. Maybe he’d be scared for a few more days before acting like a degenerate again.

I kept doing that all that afternoon. Sad, really, how many men tried- sometimes succeeded- in feeling me up- or doing the same to Mom or the aunts- how many clear, obvious shots I got. We literally couldn’t take 10 steps without it happening to one of the 5 of us. My arm started getting tired, and I started getting really angry, instead of just taking it as a challenge.

Then the string on my little purse broke. Crud. Who am I, David? These guys definitely weren’t Goliaths, and anyway I’m no good with a sling.

I started using my elbows instead. They actually worked better. Faster response, and if a male was close enough for me to hit, it was pretty much certain he’d been the guy feeling me up.

We stayed in India for 4 months on that visit, 3 the next two visits. I kept refining my technique- long past the time when I quit the schoolyard scuffles and braggadocio. I was doing the same thing in India 5 years ago, when I lived there for a year. Since my fiancé was often with me, I had to deal with it less… but it was still there.

Please understand: I do NOT condone gratuitous violence. But I consider sexual molestation an assault. Whether it’s momentary or not is of no consequence; if I don't know you, then the second you purposefully, uninvitedly and unnecessarily put your hands or any other part of your body on me, you have violated me.

And I'll make certain there’s no repeat of it. If a person assaults me, I’ll do my utmost to make sure that he or she is unwilling or unable to assault me again.

Now comes the Blank Noise Project- a public acknowledgement and declaration that Indian women have the right to walk around in public without being assaulted either verbally or physically. By anyone. Ever.

When I was 12, it would have been unthinkable- my aunts were clearly angry and embarrassed when such things happened to them, but they never acknowledged it in public, or while it was happening. (They tried to restrain me when they realized what I was doing, too, but I wasn’t having with any of that... and I have the sneaking suspicion that, eventually, it became a vicarious pleasure for them.)

It’s true that the right of freedom from verbal and physical assault- based on sex, clothing, location, etc.- is an ideal that very few women in very few countries have yet attained, but the situation in India is far, far worse than it is here. There isn't even a comparison, really. And so the public realization- even more amazing, the forcefully articulated demand- that women have the all rights and dignity of full-blown human beings (in India, that usually still means men), is incredible.

This is wonderful! I never thought this could happen!


3/07/2006 at 07:17

For ‘tis the sport to have the enginer hoist with his owne petar...

The issue on which I've been thinking today is: portage. Wait, no- that's something you do with canoes.

Port security, then. A less interesting phrase, but a more accurate one. So is life.

The punditry I hear on the Dubai Ports World deal annoys me just as much as the deal itself does. Extremist demagoguery is exactly what I hate about Bush, and now I hear it from the Dems: uninformed (or worse, inaccurate), xenophobic, fear-filled crap that usually completely misses the point of Bush's dishonesty and dereliction of duty.

On Chris' blog (HHH, at right) I'd commented that, in all the sound and fury on all sides, I've been able to glean little to no relevant information. The cant on this topic signifies nothing. (Ah, the Bard. A bon mot for every occasion.)

Now I know why I love Dave Barry (one of the gurus of the universe). At least when his writing is fact-free, he lets the reader know up front (Dave Barry's Bad Habits: A 100% Fact-Free Book). I can see it now: Commentary on the Emperor's Clothes: A Fact-free Look at Port Security Risk. Where's Maureen Dowd when you need her?

Oh, yeah. Thinking up overinflated but cutely punny metaphors which cater to another demographic of the lowest common denominator- evisceration without evidence or perspective. Funny, but uninformative.

Like I said, Dave Barry any day. Or, for that matter, Molly Ivins. But back to the ports.

So far, all the data I've been able to gather have led me to the conclusion that I don't have enough information to have an educated opinion on whether or not the DPW deal really is a security threat.

Port operation is something about which I- and at least 97% of people on earth- really have no idea. If Bush were a different type of person- i.e., one who actually knew what he was talking about- I might trust his assurances more, but as it is, I think he grabbed at the deal and the propitiation of former business partners first and asked questions later, if at all. Typical.

What really pisses me off about this proposed transaction is that it's a repeat of the pattern of secrecy, criminal negligence, and malfeasance in office for which this administration has become world-famous, as well as (another) backhand to the face of both Congress and the American people.

The only good point in this wretched mess- and it's a mixed one at best- is that it's bloody hysterical to hear Bush voice a cautious, nuanced, inclusionist, moderate stance- and be successfully shouted down by uninformed, fearful, gonad-driven ignorami. HILARIOUS. Possibly a more perfect example of real-life irony than any I've ever seen.

Talk about being hoist on your own petard.


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