Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beijing Olympics internet censorship.

If I hear any blind statements of rage from Chinese enraged by people being enraged about Chinese censorship, then I'll have to ask them to really think about the moral stance they are taking on this debate. After all, the fact that they are being enraged about these stories of censorship is something that they can do because of the lack of state censorship in the Western news media. If they were in China, would they even know of this major debate taking place? Likely not. Therefore, if they are so unhappy about people being unhappy with their government, they can always pretend that they were living behind their iron rice bowl; the great firewall of China.

Of course, though, they aren't. They are living in a society that will likely take them to task for the actions of a government that they nominally voted into power - and therefore (imho) have as much to blame for the situation as any American for voting in our own elections. Should they like it? Well, unless they prefer a censored press, then I should hope not. However, it is not likely that many people will be able to have a conversation with the ruling party in China. Therefore, people are likely to take their frustrations out on unwitting (or not so unwitting) Chinese living abroad (who for no major fault of their own found themselves growing up in a censored society, but now must face a false dichotomy of arguing for or against their country on a subject they might fully support their country; something few people can truly feel comfortable about doing without feeling like they are betraying someone).

Should they be mad that people are angry with the Chinese government for effectively renegeing on a promise when they were awarded the Olympics? No. They have no rational right to be so, only a sense stemming from nationalism and patriotism. (Which, when tied to how history is taught, can be a scary and sad thing.)

Well, I'll let the PhysOrg stories tell more:

From PhysOrg (7/31/2008):

A defiant China stood firm on controversies swirling around the Olympics on Thursday, hitting back at the United States over human rights criticism and insisting Internet censorship would remain.

China's communist rulers responded sternly to critics following a storm of bad publicity this week surrounding their decision to renege on a pledge of allowing unfettered Internet access to foreign reporters covering the Games.

The decision highlighted long-standing concerns over the Chinese government's attitude towards human rights, and led the White House to intervene by saying China had "nothing to fear" from the Internet.

The Chinese foreign ministry reacted by criticising a meeting US President George W. Bush had with leading Chinese dissidents and describing some US lawmakers who spoke out on China's human rights record as "odious".

"China asks the US to abide by the basic norms of international relations, stop interfering in the internal affairs of China by means of making use of so-called religious and human rights," ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.

Liu also hit out at a resolution by the US Congress that urged Beijing to improve on human rights and stop repression of ethnic minorities.

Liu said the resolution passed Wednesday was an attempt to politicise the Olympics and urged Washington to curb the "odious conduct" of anti-Chinese legislators.

Meanwhile, Olympic organisers said they would not back down on Internet censorship, saying banned sites were in breach of Chinese laws.

"A small number of Internet sites are blocked, mainly because they violate Chinese law," Beijing Olympic organising committee spokesman Sun Weide said when asked whether curbs for the foreign press would be lifted.

"We hope that foreign media will respect Chinese law in this matter."

Sun identified sites linked to the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is outlawed in China, as ones that would remain censored for the foreign press at Olympic venues.

He and Liu refused to identify any others but reporters trying to surf the Internet at the main press centre for the Games have found a wide array of sites deemed sensitive by China's rulers to be out-of-bounds.

Sites that are blocked include those for human rights group Amnesty International, the Tibet government-in-exile, press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders and various Chinese dissident organisations.

Another irritant for Olympic organisers was the airing by a South Korean TV station of rehearsals for the top-secret Games opening ceremony.

"I think it is disappointing that someone comes in there and literally steals one of the most exciting moments of the Games," said Kevan Gosper, an IOC executive board member from Australia.

"This is a great surprise and I have not heard of this happening before."

The Beijing Olympic organising committee said that the filming was unauthorised and that it had launched an investigation.

"We are disappointed and frustrated with the broadcast by SBS," Beijing organising committee spokesman Sun said.

And after two days of marked improvement in the air, the Chinese capital was once again blighted by a thick haze Thursday, suggesting draconian measures to curb car use had not been enough.

The environment ministry on Thursday unveiled a string of potential last-ditch measures that would be enacted if air pollution reached unacceptable standards.

One million of the city's 3.3 million cars have already been taken off the roads, and more than 100 heavily polluting factories and building sites closed down.

But the ministry said around 460,000 more cars would be taken off the roads and another 222 factories temporarily shut down, if necessary.

Measures restricting traffic could also be extended to the nearby city of Tianjin and major cities in neighbouring Hebei province, the ministry said.
From PhysOrg (7/30/2008):
The Beijing Olympics were plunged into another controversy on Wednesday as China announced a backflip on Internet freedoms for the thousands of foreign reporters covering the Games.
China's decision to reverse a pledge on allowing unfettered web access proved an embarrassment for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which had repeatedly said foreign press would not face any Internet curbs in Beijing.

It was also the latest in a long line of issues to have tarnished the run-up to the Olympics, which start on August 8, following controversies over pollution, human rights and terrorism threats.

Beijing Olympic organising committee spokesman Sun Weide triggered the latest public relations flare-up when he confirmed foreign reporters would not have access to some sites deemed sensitive by China's communist rulers.

"During the Olympic Games we will provide sufficient access to the Internet for reporters," Sun said.

However "sufficient access" falls short of the complete Internet freedoms for foreign reporters that China had promised in the run-up to the Games.

Sun specified sites linked to the Falungong spiritual movement, which is outlawed in China, as ones that would remain censored for the foreign press at Olympic venues.

He did not identify any others but reporters trying to surf the Internet at the main press centre for the Games on Wednesday found a wide array of sites deemed sensitive by China's rulers to be out-of-bounds.

These included sites belonging to Tibet 's government-in-exile and Amnesty International, as well as those that had information on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in which the military used deadly force to crush democracy protests.

The head of the IOC's press commission, Kevan Gosper, told AFP early on Wednesday that he would take the matter up with Chinese officials.

"I will speak with the Chinese authorities to advise them of the restraints and to see what their reaction is," he said.

Australian Olympic team chief John Coates, who is also an IOC member, expressed frustration with China's Internet about-face, pointing out that the Chinese authorities had gone back on one of their "key" Olympic promises.

"It certainly is disappointing... I think it's a matter that the IOC will take seriously," Coates told reporters.

In an exclusive interview with AFP two weeks ago, IOC president Jacques Rogge insisted there would be no censorship of the Internet.

"For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China," he said.

"There will be no censorship on the Internet."

The South China Morning Post newspaper quoted Gosper as saying later Wednesday that the IOC knew that some sites would be blocked, and apologised that the foreign press had been misled.

"(Recently) I have also been advised that some of the IOC officials had negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked," the Hong Kong-based newspaper quoted Gosper as saying in an exclusive interview.

"If you have been misled by what I have told you about there being free Internet access during the Games, then I apologise."

Gosper said he was disappointed by the developments, according to the South China Morning Post.

"But I can't tell the Chinese what to do."

Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based press freedom group, said it was surprised the IOC had kowtowed so easily to China's leadership over web access.

"When China applied to host the Games they promised total press freedom and that must include Internet access," said Vincent Brossel, the group's Asia Director.

"What a total humiliation this is for the (IOC President) Jacques Rogge. How can the IOC be so weak and feeble?"


Although many people might know of gannets from a Monty Python sketch (see 2:54):

I think that as fishers, they far out-perform any dive-bombing bird out there:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Family trees in a music video.

Normally, I'm not such a huge fan of JPop, but I find the video accompanying the music quite interesting. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Obesity on my news reader feeds

One story from PhysOrg and another from Treehugger, indicating the social and biological hurdles facing people who are trying to lose weight. I start with the PhysOrg brief: "Limiting fructose may boost weight loss." Apparently, humans are really good at metabolizing fructose:
"All three [sugars: fructose, sucrose, and glucose] can be made into triglycerides, a form of body fat; however, once you start the process of fat synthesis from fructose, it's hard to slow it down," she said.
In humans, triglycerides are predominantly formed in the liver, which acts like a traffic cop to coordinate the use of dietary sugars. It is the liver's job, when it encounters glucose, to decide whether the body needs to store the glucose as glycogen, burn it for energy or turn the glucose into triglycerides. When there's a lot of glucose to process, it is put aside to process later.
Fructose, on the other hand, enters this metabolic pathway downstream, bypassing the traffic cop and flooding the metabolic pathway.
In other words, fructose is a "deadlier" sugar than either sucrose or glucose, since it can easily bypass the normal metabolic "holds" that affect these two other sugars. Why would this be a problem, though? Well, in the United States, a vast majority of sweeteners are based on high-fructose corn syrup (which is typically 55% fructose, 45% glucose, but can be as high as 90% fructose). That soda you're sippin' on? HFCS. Morning sugar cereal? HFCS. Cake bought at the store? HFCS. Your can of Campbell's Tomato soup? HFCS. The list goes on-and-on-and-on. Maybe this is one more reason why the rest of the world (save Australia, which passed the US in June 2008 to garner the dubious distinction of "most obese country in the world") is not as obese as the United States: their sweet teeth are not satisfied by using high-fructose corn syrup as it is in the US. Short rule: if you want to help your chances of slimming down, apparently you should refuse any sort of additional fructose (i.e., anything other than what's naturally occurring in your fruit and veg).

I end this entry with the story from Treehugger: "Save Energy, Save the Planet, Lose Weight = Eat Less Meat & Junk Food." In this entry, Matthew McDermott cites a study from Cornell, published in Human Ecology that points out the connectedness of food production and energy use in this country. What does this have to do with obesity? Well, directly, nothing. However, it does make the connection between the earth-friendly benefits and the heal benefits of going vegetarian and off processed food. Based on another article McDermott indicates that the most earth-friendly diet is veganism, followed by vegetarianism, then by poultry-eaters. (I wonder what the numbers would be for an "internationally sourced" vegan vs. a "locally sourced" meat-and-veg.) Short rule here: eat less meat and processed food, because it's not only good for you; it's good for the planet.

Military learn from fish

Via PhysOrg:

I normally like to say that people should really learn how to learn from nature (i.e., "biomimicry")
An extraordinary fish that inhabits muddy pools in West Africa and whose lineage can be traced back 96 million years could be the model for light, bomb-proof body armour for the soldiers of the future.

So say Pentagon-backed scientists who have pored over the scales of Polypterus senegalus, also called the Senegal bichir or the dinosaur eel.

Long and skinny and of ancient heritage, the 40-centimetre (16-inch) predator has multiple layers of scales that first dissipate the energy of a strike, then protect against any penetration to the soft tissues below and finally limit any damage to the shield to the immediate area surrounding the assault. [Also known as ganoid scales.]

Experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) used nano-scale measurements to look at several scales that were harmlessly removed from a living fish.

They found the scales -- about 500 millionths of a metre thick -- have four layers. The tiny shield was then put to the test, in a simulation of a biting attack.

The team believe the scales' protection is remarkably effective because of the different composite materials, the geometry and thickness of each of these layers.

The overlapping junctions between the layers themselves also play an important role.
The design is "fascinating, complex and multiscale," say the scientists.

"Such fundamental knowledge holds great potential for the development of improved biologically-inspired structural materials," said Christine Ortiz, an MIT associate professor in materials science and engineering.

"Many of the design principles we describe -- durable interfaces and energy-dissipating mechanisms, for instance -- may be translatable to human armour systems."
The study appears on Sunday in a specialist journal, Nature Materials [password protected].
Ummm.... Ganoid scales being robust protection against attack is new research? That it's useful as a protective mechanism in the form of biomimicry-in-action is more interesting. (At least to me.)

Random YouTube: Japanese girls playing accordion

Japan is known for (among many other things) random-ass shit, and as I am half-Japanese by birth, I occasionally feel a need to visit in on some of these random combinations of things. I feel that YouTube provides a great medium through which to introduce this particular random assortment of Japanese-European admixture: Japanese girls playing accordion!

Related: Japanese girls playing accordion with others

You might have noticed that the same girl shows up in several of the videos (both by herself, and with a group). Her name is Koharu, and the band is called Minority Orchestra. Their stuff really makes me want to buy a plane ticket back to Japan just to watch them play!

Thinking about this for a bit, some of the pieces played by these women (and by other Japanese in other YouTube videos) seem to have a very strong Russian/Slavic influence. I think this might be of some significance (but it could just be that the accordian songs that are played in Japan are Slavic/Russian). According to "Accordion History in Japan":
It is widely thought that the accordion was probably introduced to Japan by Sensuke Asahi, who gifted one to the Miho Shinto Temple in the Simone region in 1850. Syokichi Mazkichimaru did the same in 1867.

In 1887, the Japanese imported German diatonic accordions for the women of high society to play. In 1905, Russian war prisoners returned home, without their accordions. The Tanabe firm began manufacturing them, and travelling medical salesmen used the accordion to advertise their wares.

In 1931, the French film 'Sous les foits de Paris' was a huge success in Japan, and caused a demand for the Parisian accordion as heard on the soundtrack. Tambo created an accordion model with a piano keyboard named "Paris", and other models were made with names such as "Bolero" and "Scala". These were later replaced by Japanese names such as "Chyasahima" (divine island) and "Daitoa" (great Asia). Many instrument workshops were converted into propeller factories during the war, and many pre-war instruments were destroyed by bombs.

In 1932, the Tambo firm began manufacturing diatonic accordions, followed three years later by Yamaha. Yamaha also produced chromatic accordions with piano keyboards, which were not widely imported.

The accordion became popular again after WWII and lasted until the mid 1950s. Cabarets, ballrooms and nightclubs flourished throughout the country, and numerous orchestras included the accordion. In Nagoya, there were many professional accordionists.

Today, Japanese are still fond of folk music, represented by the musette style and have arranged for French accordionists to tour their country.
Yeah, not much. And this from "the largest accordion resource on the web." I can't say that I ever witnessed anyone playing accordion when I was living in Japan. However, I left Japan when I was in 10th grade, so isn't a representative recollection. However, the juxtaposition of the funky Japanese cosplay-like get-ups with the Western contextualization of the accordion as a folk-music instrument (complete with the trappings of what that means in terms of costume) makes for an interesting sight - along with the dancing of the accordionistas.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Jersey Girl

Hopefully it's long enough after Jersey Girl's release date to talk about this film. As a piece of really good art, this was not really close. As another (albeit very well told) story of a man's  late coming-of-age when he realizes what was so plainly right in front of his very eyes: family. It doesn't hurt that it has several very popular screen names making cameo appearances (speaking to the greatness of Kevin Smith's role as a director), nor that the female roles are played by very competent and attractive actresses - Raquel Castro as the daughter, and Liv Tyler as the love interest. (It doesn't hurt that it has the late, great George Carlin,either.)

True, the broad-brush course of the film is easily discerned once Ollie Trinke's (Ben Affleck) wife (JLo) dies giving birth to their daughter. Of course, it becomes painfully clear as to how the film is slated to end (spoiler: it's a Hollywood-ending) once Maya (Liv Tyler) enters the scene. True, too, Smith throws the viewer several variations to the plot - Maya is a sexually liberated grad student who offers to sleep with Ollie once she learns (as she interviews him as one of her subjects-of-study) that he hasn't had sex for seven years - while also making fun of films of the genre - having all the parent-student performances be a rendition of the song Memories from Cats - and throwing in a few curveballs (that turn out not to be too difficult to hit).

In all, I think that this film is one of my more favorite of the genre. It blows It's a Wonderful Life out of the water (and I'm not just saying that because I see it so often), as well as both versions of The Parent Trap, or Maid in New York. Would I see it again? Likely not, but I'm also unlikely to put up a whole lot of protest to watching it again.

Testing some computing capabilities of my "internets" tablet

This entry is being slowly typed out by stylus on my new (!) N810 internet tablet. I've been using it for aa coupl of days now, and I think that I'm starting to get the hang of how it operates. The screen, although almost painfully vibrant and sharp, is a little smaller-rhan-optimum, and I'll readily admit that it's zoom fezture is not as nice as the iPhone's. (And the layout of the screen is more favorable for righr-handed users than southpaws like myself.)

It does have a nice fingerboard that slides out from underneath, allowing for faster typing than the stylus method of above, or the hunt-and-pray method of finger-typing on the screen that the iPhone uses.

Although I've now set up a Skype account (to really capitalize on the strength of this device over the iPod touch), I haven't used the device to talk with someone, so I don't know how it will look. I know that Skype has developed a version to work specifically with this device, so we'll see how it goes once I get 'round to it.

Still a few weeks before Chile, so I have a little more of an opportunity to figure out what all's what...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

epMotion - the savior of tedium

People who do (or have done) work with LOTS of pipetting, they might find very funny the following link (or just click on the video, below):

Monday, July 21, 2008


Via PhysOrg: "A dash of lime -- a new twist that may cut CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels."

Here's an interesting piece of applied science: sowing the seas with lime (the mineral, not the fruit) to create conditions that are effectively "carbon negative" (i.e., the seas will soak up CO2). What's more interesting is the "open source" nature of the investigation.

From Cquestrate:
We are developing this project in an open source way. There are no patents involved in this process and that is the way we want to keep it. We are opening it up to everyone so that we can draw on the expertise of people who can help us to transform the idea from concept to reality.

By posting any ideas or suggestions onto this website you will be publicly disclosing that information, which will create a broad ‘anti-patent’ space. This will prevent anyone from gaining a patent that could restrict the development of this process. Every contribution will be logged and date-stamped, creating a permanent record, which can be used to challenge anyone trying to gain patents in this area.

By using an open source approach no-one can restrict anyone else from developing this process.

Open source has been successfully used to develop Wikipedia and software such as Linux. As far as we are aware this is the first time it has been used to try to tackle an issue such as climate change.

If you would like to help develop this project, please click through to find out how you can get involved.

Alternatively, for more information please see The Idea or the frequently asked questions.
I've already made a comment in the section, but I think it is a very laudable attempt at looking at multiple aspects of a minor geoengineering option to reverse global warming.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A comment on a comment.

I earlier posted my response to a post at Dispatches. I had a couple of direct responses. The first one - from DingoJack (always appearing to be good-humored, yet pointed, commentary) was:
Furthermore, Umlud, what if someone set up the "Church of Dopesmoking Sexfeinds" then moved thier operation to Mecca? Could the Saudis sue this church? If they did could the CoDS counter sue? Remember this would be an international court probably in the Hague or somewhere. Such laws would not foster co-operation between faiths, it would drive wedges between them, with totally unpredictable consequences. A Hobbesian war between the faiths is just what the world doesn't need now (or ever) -DJ
Posted by: DingoJack | July 18, 2008 10:19 AM
I really find this one funny and explanatory, and again, quite exemplary. A war between the Church of Dopesmoking Sexfiends and Saudi Wahabbists? I wonder who would win? :)

Of course, I also get direct responses like this one, too.
Gretchen, you quoted this:
But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them.
Jim Babka said this:
That doesn't happen often, but in this instance, from this very blog post, you can see that they both agree that the ability to defame religions is free speech, and that a ban prohibiting defamation of religions is bad.
Umlud said this:
Why should religions get an anti-defamation allowance?
For the record, I do not think that religions should be immune from criticism. In fact nobody should. Now, I would be interested to hear all your opinions on this:
Is this where we are headed? Gays get to be insulated by the law from criticism? Would you all support or oppose what this guy said?
Posted by: mroberts | July 18, 2008 5:01 PM
This was my answer:
mroberts - instead of linking to a summary of a knee-jerk bigoted reaction, why not link to the story that caused that knee-jerk bigoted reaction? Are we to respond to the reaction or the original piece? Are you one that agrees with the reaction, or stands against it? If so, on what grounds are you making your argument? So many murky questions, so little actual information from you... However, I'll humor your question (apologies to all for going off-topic).
"Is this where we're headed?" If by "this" you mean protecting those inherent things that a person cannot choose - their social, racial, and sexual identity - as opposed to those they can - their belief systems, economic decisions, and personal actions - then I would say, "I hope so."
My reasoning goes a little like this:
Can one choose what one's own belief system? I believe one can. I've done it and, I've seen others do it. These therefore fall in my general category of "personal decisions," and thus are not something that should be protected against, viz anti-defamation legislation. Can one choose one's own sexual orientation? I believe one cannot. Therefore, bigotry against one's sexual orientation - much like one's ethnicity - should be protected against viz anti-defamation legislation.
Now, if a homosexual is bigoted against heterosexuals, then I would have as little sympathy for that bigot's POV as I would if the roles were reversed. Bigotry against inherent characteristics (such as those outlined above) should not (imho) be tolerated. (And please don't accuse me of being intolerant as I preach tolerance. I never said that I was universally tolerant - which is itself an untenable position.)

Now that I've answered your question mroberts, why not follow Wes' advice, and return your questions and statements to the posting at hand (or go back and show how King Abdullah's hypocritical and dangerous call for anti-defamation based on one's personal actions and choices is tied to your posting of a link to a bigoted knee-jerk reaction to President Lula's actions to protect inherent identity, and therefore civil liberties)?
Posted by: Umlud | July 18, 2008 7:31 PM
It turns out that several other people have answered mroberts (in addition to Wes' original response) during the time I was writing back to mroberts. Now that I've made a statement on where I stand on this, I get to disregard feeling like I would have to answer mroberts on this topic again.

Al Gore's speech

Full text of speech available at I really like the following bit:
I don't remember a time in our country when so many things seemed to be going so wrong simultaneously. Our economy is in terrible shape and getting worse, gasoline prices are increasing dramatically, and so are electricity rates. Jobs are being outsourced. Home mortgages are in trouble. Banks, automobile companies and other institutions we depend upon are under growing pressure. Distinguished senior business leaders are telling us that this is just the beginning unless we find the courage to make some major changes quickly.
Enjoy the video.

Walk Score

A while back, I was introduced to At the time, it seemed little more than a Google Maps application that linked types of local amenities with a "walkability" score. Pluggin in "Ann Arbor" returned a score of 91/100. Not too shabby, if I say so myself. However, the website offers a lot more now than just this "get your walkability score" feature.

Since a year ago, the website has increased its analysis (by a lot) and has rated 40 cities by "walkability" of their neighborhoods. There are several no-brainers, based on the criteria of walkability: San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Chicago rank 1-4, respectively, while Indianapolis, Charlotte, Nashville, and Jacksonville rank 37-40, respectively. However, a few are a little odd (having lived in or visited these cities):
Looking at all of these cities, one can say that the reason why the walkability scores are "off kilter" are due to the scale at which WalkScore decided to investigate each city. Having live in Denver, and visited Los Angeles, I can tell you that these are not "walkable" cities - in the context of their metropolitan areas. True, their down town regions are quite walkable, but getting to it usually involves a lot of sitting in a car in slow-moving traffic. Looking at the maps for both of these high-ranking walkable cities, you can see that their "boundaries" of consideration are much smaller than the total metropolitan area. If you were to expand the analysis into these areas, it will be quite likely that both of these cities will see their overall score (and likely their position) decline markedly. For example, if Los Angeles included the cities of Compton, Lynwood, and Carson, it would be linked to the score for Long Beach. However, even this addition would not likely bring the reality of the metropolitan area's walkability. Without including areas like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Alhambra, Monterey Park, Huntington Park, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Palos Verdes, Bellflower, Lakewood, Cypress, Los Alamitos, Garden Grove, Fountain Falley, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Fullerton, Yorba Linda, Irvine, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Laguna Niguel, as well as (possibly) all the cities up through San Bernadino and Moreno Valley.

Similarly, Denver's walkability is much higher than I "know" it should be. True, the walkability score refers only to Denver's city limits. However, the metropolitan area includes the cities of Englewood, Aurora, Littleton, Glendale, Columbine, Wheat Ridge, and Arvada, Westminster, Thornton, and Broomfield. Without including these commuter cities to Denver's total, it is not really possible to get a sense of the true walkability of the contiguous metropolitan area. Why, for example, include the corridor out to the Denver International Airport (when very few people live out there) as a "neighborhood" and add it to Denver's walkability score? If you were to include that, then why not include the city of Glendale, which is completely surrounded by Denver?

Similarly, I was shocked to see Detroit and Phoenix located so high in the pecking order. However, looking at their maps, you quickly see that both of these cities' analyses do not include their outlying regions and contiguous cities. For example, the highly unwalkable Scottsdale, Glendale, and Peoria aren't included with Phoenix (but for some reason the unwalkable town of Paradise Valley is). In fact, if the mostly unwalkable (outside ASU campus) Tempe were added to the analysis, then the unwalkable Mesa (rank: 30, score: 48) would automatically be folded in, as well, making us wonder why Chandler, Gilbert, and Apache Junction weren't included in the analysis... In my estimation, Phoenix metro area should be WAY lower than a walkability score of 50.

Detroit is a similar case. As of July 18, 2008, it was sitting pretty at 23rd position, and the analysis didn't take into account anything outside the actual city limits of Detroit, including the Detroic metro-area cities (in Oakland County alone) of Allen Park, Belleville, Dearborn Heights, Dearborn, Ecorse, Flat Rock, Garden City, Gibraltar, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Point Park, Grosse Pointe Woods, Grosse Point, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, Highland Park, Inkster, Lincoln Park, Livonia, Melvindale, Northville, Plymouth, River Rouge, Riverview, Rockwood, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor, Trenton, Wayne, Westland, Woodhaven, and Wyandotte as well as the developed-but-unincorporated areas of Brownstown Township, Canton Charter Township, Grosse Ile Township, Grosse Pointe Township, Huron Charter Township, Northville Charter Township, Plymouth Township, Redford Charter Township, Sumpter Township, Van Buren Charter Township. If you were to add the highly unwalkwalbe contiguous Detroit-area metro cities of Wayne County and Oakland County, then D-town's walkability score (similar to Phoenix) would decline by a LOT. In fact, if you take a look at Jacksonville's score again, it takes into account a LOT of the outlying areas of the city (which D-town's analysis fails to do, let alone take into account a majority of the contiguous urban areas outside the city limits).

Conversely, Tucson is not really noted for its lack of walkability. So what's it doing below the Motor City? Well, looking at the map for Tucson, you see that Davis Monthan Air Force Base is included in the analysis (not really part of the city), as well as Rita Ranch and Houghton. If these neighborhoods (and military bases) are added to the score for Tucson, why aren't larger metro areas included for LA and Denver?

American Physical Society NOT saying humans aren't causing global warming

Apparently, there's a new "meme" going around the interwebs: "The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change..." Check out this excerpt from
The American Physical Society had been a proponent of the “consensus” on anthropogenic global warming/climate change — until now.  While the main organization has not addressed its position — yet — a major unit within APS has declared global warming unproven and that the IPCC’s conclusions unsupportable.  The APS will re-open the debate on global warming with a new paper accusing the IPCC of deliberate obfuscation (via Memeorandum):
Another excerpt from DailyTech:
The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming.  The APS is also sponsoring public debate on the validity of global warming science.  The leadership of the society had previously called the evidence for global warming "incontrovertible."
Well, let's see what's going on with the APS, then, shall we? Taken from the Editor's Comments section of the July 2008 online "Physics and Society" quarterly edition of its Forum of Physics and Society (emphasis mine): 
With this issue of Physics & Society, we kick off a debate concerning one of the main conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body which, together with Al Gore, recently won the Nobel Prize for its work concerning climate change research. There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution. Since the correctness or fallacy of that conclusion has immense implications for public policy and for the future of the biosphere, we thought it appropriate to present a debate within the pages of P&S concerning that conclusion. This editor (JJM) invited several people to contribute articles that were either pro or con. Christopher  Monckton responded with this issue's article that argues against the correctness of the IPCC conclusion, and a pair from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, David Hafemeister and Peter Schwartz, responded with this issue's article in favor of the IPCC conclusion. We, the editors of P&S, invite reasoned rebuttals from the authors as well as further contributions from the physics community. Please contact me ( if you wish to jump into this fray with comments or articles that are scientific in nature. However, we will not publish articles that are political or polemical in nature. Stick to the science! (JJM)

Ummm... So somehow HotAir and DailyTech went from an invited scientific debate to the APS reversing its stance on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) can only really be answered with the accusation of "spinning" the news (or a major lack of understaing about the nature of scientific debate). Since I consider that people at DailyTech (from which HotAir got its news) are likely somewhat versed in the concept of scientific debates, I am going to conclude that their position is merely a major spin campaign about the APS to match their viewpoint on AGW. And, indeed, if you go to the APS homepage, you will find the following (click the image on the left to bring up a screen-capture of the July 18, 2008 web page):
APS Climate Change Statement
APS Position Remains Unchanged
The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007:
"Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate."
An article at odds with this statement recently appeared in an online newsletter of the APS Forum on Physics and Society, one of 39 units of APS. The header of this newsletter carries the statement that "Opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the APS or of the Forum." This newsletter is not a journal of the APS and it is not peer reviewed.
So let's do a little sleuthing to see what's up with that Forum on Physics and Society online quarterly. Indeed, if you read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page, you will note that it states, just as the APS homepage announcement does (emphasis mine):
Physics and Society is the quarterly of the Forum on Physics and Society, a division of the American Physical Society. It presents letters, commentary, book reviews and reviewed articles on the relations of physics and the physics community to government and society. It also carries news of the Forum and provides a medium for Forum members to exchange ideas. Opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the APS or of the Forum. Contributed articles (up to 2500 words, technicalities are encouraged), letters (500 words), commentary (1000 words), reviews (1000 words) and brief news articles are welcome. Send them to the relevant editor by e-mail (preferred) or regular mail.
So taking this additional piece of evidence into account, TechNews and HotAir are both really spinning the news by stating that APS - a group with a membership of 500,000 - has changed its position on whether humans are causing global warming by basing their entire claim on a single un-reviewed article submitted as part of a pro vs. con scientific debate in a quarterly forum-derived newsletter. They also seem to ignore the big, glaring letters on the APS's own home page: "APS Position Remains Unchanged ... Read APS Climate Change Statement":
National Policy
(Adopted by Council on November 18, 2007)
Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.
Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
So, in the end, this turns out to be another (very poor) attempt by global warming skeptics at trying to "prove" their position is right, by "showing" the scientific consensus point as wrong, incomplete, inconclusive, or otherwise without scientific merit. I really hope that the editor of the quaterly (JJM) does not get more than a polite e-mail reminding him of the polemics that take place around this subject outside the ivory towers of science (and academia in general).

Hat tip to Climate Progress

Why allow anti-defamation for religions?

From today's Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed has a series of articles about religion and the public sphere. I'm focusing on one here today:  "Why Pan-Religious Cooperation Could be Bad".

In the first story, Ed links to the AP story about King Abdullah's speech in Madrid:
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia exhorted followers of the world's leading faiths to turn away from extremism and embrace a spirit of reconciliation, saying at the start of an interfaith conference Wednesday that history's great conflicts were not caused by religion itself but by its misinterpretation.

Abdullah's comments came at the start of a Saudi-sponsored gathering that aims to bring Muslims, Christians and Jews closer together at a time when the world often puts the three faiths at odds.
The Saudis have billed the gathering — which also includes Buddhist and Hindu participants, as well as practitioners of several Eastern religions — as a strictly religious affair. There's to be no mention of hot-button issues such as the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iranian nuclear ambitions or rising oil prices.
His point of contention is that this seems to be rather hypocritical from the previous statements made by the king:
But remember, this is the same oppressive dictator who previously proposed that the three Abrahamic religions should join forces against....well, everyone else...
Abdullah, like many others, has called for an international law prohibiting "defamation" of religion. As I said a few days ago, I'm just not inclined to accept lectures about ethics from a brutal dictator whose regime beheads people for being of the wrong religion, puts gay people to death and has roving gangs (they call them police) whose job is to beat women who leave the house unattended by a male relative. You're gonna lecture me on ethics, you fascist asshole?
I had heard about the conference listening to the BBC, but didn't really think much about it until Ed wrote on the topic. I (as is usually the case) agree with Ed's contentions. I also ask, "Why should religions get an anti-defamation allowance?" I mean, apart from having to first define what constitutes a "religion" (Does a non-theistic Buddhism or Confucianism count? Does the FSM count? What about cults like "Aum Shinrikyo" or small "break-away" sects like the "Branch Dividians"?), one has to constantly worry about whether something someone says about a religion would be found to be defamation of that religion by any one follower of it. Even pronouncements of one religious holy text about other religions (e.g., "Thou shalt have no gods before me.") could be construed by someone else as defaming their religion.

In addition, many religions don't have a strict hierarchy. Even Christianity, with its myriad churches within Protestantism doesn't have a single "hierarchy", and there would be calls of bloody murder (or an appropriate equivalent) if one were suggested. Apart from very few instances (such as the Anglicanism, Catholicism and Mormonism), there isn't one person (or "supreme council") that can make judgments for the entire religion (and you'll note that all three instances I named are variants of Christianity - although Mormonism is a wide variant).

So if there were an international "defamation" law for religions, who would have standing to bring suit? Would it be anyone who wishes to do so if they are representing a very horizontally ordered religion (like FSM), or would suits only be heard if it were brought by a supreme leader or supreme council (thus negating the ability of religious organizations like FSM from taking part)? How would the law take into account statements made by one priest that goes against the decision of the supreme leader/council?

I propose that if religions do end up getting an international law prohibiting defamation, that someone set up a "Church of Humanism and Atheism" (or something similar) to justify demanding equal non-defamation of humanism and atheism. (Of course, religiously un-free countries like Saudi Arabia would likely be one of the first to deny recognition of such an institution.)

Although the potential limitations to freedoms of speech are also quite obvious, I'll let commenters at Ed's page get on that one.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Evolution and Darwin[ism]

Apparently, there's a bit of a discussion online about whether or not we all should stop calling it "Darwinian/-ist/-ism":
Why is [focusing on Dawrin] a problem? Because it’s all grossly misleading. It suggests that Darwin was the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, of evolutionary biology, and that the subject hasn’t changed much in the 149 years since the publication of the “Origin.”
I agree. Anti-evolutionists base many of their arguments on quote-mines of Darwin's Origins, as if it were some sort of holy tome of evolutionary biology; an analogue to the Bible and Christianity. However, anyone who has taken a course in evolutionary biology will know that - apart from mentioning Darwin and Origins as part of the history of evolutionary biology - Darwin and Origins are hardly mentioned at all. Indeed, Origins is not likely even a required reading. Instead, there are several textbooks that show many of the advances that have taken place since 1859, including the discovery of DNA, the types and role of mutations, accounts of speciation observation, etc.
But I digress. To return to my argument: I’d like to abolish the insidious terms Darwinism, Darwinist and Darwinian. They suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology, as though it was the brainchild of a single person 150 years ago, rather than a vast, complex and evolving subject to which many other great figures have contributed. (The science would be in a sorry state if one man 150 years ago had, in fact, discovered everything there was to say.) Obsessively focusing on Darwin, perpetually asking whether he was right about this or that, implies that the discovery of something he didn’t think of or know about somehow undermines or threatens the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology today.
As a former environmental and evolutionary biologist, I have to agree with much of this sentiment, and so do contributors over on Scienceblogs. They all seem to have a similar aversion to the words "Darwinism" and "Darwinist" - as if these words were epithets that had been slung in their direction too many times.

However, as Mike the Mad Biologist concludes,
Of course, creationists will always call evolutionary biology Darwinism. One reason is that they don't know what they're talking about, and so, party like it's 1859. The other reason is that they can't afford to acknowledge that evolutionary biology is a dynamic growing field that successfully and continuously meets the challenge of new data.
So if Mike is right (and it seems like he might be, based on what I keep seeing on YouTube), the creationist argument - especially the YEC argument of Biblical literalism - will clutch on to the terms "Darwinism" and "Darwinist" (sometimes convoluting them with the term "athiest" and "secularist") with a calcifying grip to ensure that their definition of the term is inculcated into the minds of their followers. Similar to the arguments made from a literal reading of the Bible, the form of the "Darwinist" cannot be allowed to change.

Bad climate news...

Looking over at Climate Progress, we see that there are many climatic problems that are cropping up this year (and we've only just passed the half-way mark of 2008). From NOAA, we find out that:
  • Based on preliminary data, the globally averaged combined land and sea surface temperature was the eighth warmest on record for June and the ninth warmest for January-June year-to-date period.
  • June 2008 temperatures were above average in Australia, northwestern Africa, eastern Brazil, the eastern and southern continental U.S., and most of Europe and Russia. Meanwhile, cooler-than-average conditions were present across the north-central and northwestern contiguous U.S., the southern countries of South America, northern India, and western Russia.
  • Precipitation during June 2008 was above average in the Philippines, British Isles, Finland, Kenya, the midwestern and northeastern continental U.S., northern India, and eastern and southern China. Drier-than-average conditions were observed across the southern and most of the western U.S., parts of Europe, southern Australia, and South America.
  • El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions transitioned to a neutral phase during June.

Tokyo rests atop the Mines of Moria

Take a look at the Tokyo storm sewer photos from over at After looking at these, I was reminded of something... The Mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings movie (and books). Check it out!
The Tokyo storm sewer system
Artistic representation of the Mines of Moria
Mines of Moria from The Fellowship of the Ring

What fish are you?

The WWF claims to be able to tell what your inner fish is, then head over to their web page to find out. It turns out that I'm an Atlantic Cod. (Yeah, baby!) Just in case you can't read what it says, here it is:
Umlud, based on the results of the quiz, the fish you're closest to is a Atlantic Cod!

You are quite a resilient fish and always hungry! You can grow to between 6 and 25 lbs, and a few of your fellow cod have been recorded weighing in at nearly a whopping 200 lbs. You swim with your mouth open and will eat just about anything including starfish, crabs, squid, worms, and even young cod. A strong swimmer, you can be found anywhere from 70 to 700 feet deep in cooler Atlantic waters. Your color may range from a gray-green to a reddish brown and depending on how deep you swim and environment, you may even change color.

Even though you may be a resilient fish, you are not very quick and face the threat of overfishing. The fisherman is your number one predator, as you have been a popular food choice among many. Yuo may be found in the frozen food isle at the grocers and on plates in restaurants. While many people are working to limit the use of you in food items, your fisheries have been drastically overfished you're your populations are close to collapse.
Who knew?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Going to Chile. Need to do some shopping.

I found out that I'll be attending the PASI workshop in Concepcion, Chile during most of August. Luckily, it will be "fully-funded" (i.e., I'll be reimbursed once I get there). However, in going there, I'll need to stock up on some supplies and upgrades.

In addition to purchasing some more jeans (had to buy some anyway), collared shirts (unlike collared greens, although some might be green), and socks, I thought seriously about taking this opportunity to upgrade my laptop. However, I have some pause. The main reason is because of the possibility of having my computer confiscated, and I don't want to have to worry about that with a new computer. However, I'm looking at a 20-hour travel time between D-town and Concepcion, so I'm thinking about purchasing some electronic toys and tools.
The first two items I'm getting for my own use for the trip (some CivRev ought to pass the time nicely on the flight to Chile). Similarly, the N810 has the ability to operate as a internet browser and Skype phone (no expensive calls back from Chile - so long as I'm online). The used laptop I'm going to get because I can wipe the hard drive and install Linux (something that I've really wanted to do for a while) and use as my "main travel computer". All the other stuff are included to ensure that I won't have to worry about blowing my precious new electronic gear due to voltage issues.

I probably should also get a guide for things to do in Concepcion, since I'll be "on the town" for a few days after the workshop... I know that I can get good wine, coffee, olive oil, and hearts-of-palm. I know that there is a nice university there (which is where the conference will be held). I also know that it will be winter there (ahhh... the coolness! I can feel it already!), and is likely to be rainy. I'd like to purchase some things for my brother, his fiancée, my parents, my lab-mates, and my committee (as well as myself). I'm not one to just purchase a bunch of tsotchkes, but we'll see what there is on offer.

I can promise photos whilst I'm there.

Lunch on the first day of Fart Fair

Okay. I'll admit that I should have packed a lunch on the first day of Fart Fair, but I had though (naively) that it would be "okay" for me if I ate once again at the University Club, located in the Michigan Union. I pity my mistake. I really like the U Club because it has all-you-can-eat salad bar for $8.25, salad and hot bar for $9.25, and salad, hot bar, and soup for $10.25. It is also usually nearly empty.

I had thought that since it was not prominently displayed to the public slowly grazing through "art" outside, that they would be not-so-busy today. My mistake was made clear when I asked for a table and found that all the available ones had been reserved (I'll have to make a reservation tomorrow), meaning that I would have to wait.

That is what I'm doing now. Waiting to go to lunch. Dum-dee-dum... Bored...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Arbor Wiki

Just looking through Arbor Wiki. Amazing! Who thought that Ann Arbor had so much to do and offer? (I mean, I thought I knew, but no!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My thirty-four mile bike ride

Today, I went on a 34-mile bike ride. The Kitchen Empress' birthday was yesterday, but due to he being under the weather, was not much in the mood for celebrations. In addition, the inclement weather in the morning - and the chance for rain throughout the day - kept me from trying to get out to Pinkney on Saturday.

However, with the promise of a nice day (and it was), I headed out to Pinkney this morning, via Dexter. Now, you should know that I've never really ridden a bike more than about eight miles at one time, however, I had always wanted to get out to Dexter (all the bike riders on Huron River Drive seemed so happy in their ride). My thinking was that if K.E. was still not in the mood for visitors, then I could have lunch there and return to Ann Arbor.

On my way out, I rode through Bandemer Park - where the city has added amenities (more bike racks, a dirt bike course, disc golf, permanent toilets at the crew site, and an artificial wetland) - and along the AmTrak rails until I got to Barton Dam Park. From there, I rode along Huron River Drive, trying to keep the gears between 2x5 (on the climbs) and 2x7 (on the descents and flats). I was able to do this for much of the time, only having to switch to 2x4 one time on my way to Dexter. Somewhere along my journey, I heard a bike coming up to pass me, and I looked to my left, and there was Ted.

"Hey, Shaw!"

"Hey, Ted!"

"Whatcha doin?"

"Riding to Dexter. You?"

The conversation went on kind of like that for about 30 seconds. He had said that he and his wife had seem me riding, and he rode up to say, "Hi." He then turned back to catch up with his wife, going back to Ann Arbor. I was passed by only one other cyclist before I got a call from K.E. about 200 yards from Mast Road.

I informed her that I was cycling to Dexter, and asked if she would care to meet me for brunch/lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe (which we found later had a prominent display of "God Bless America" painted on the side of the building). My cycling out to Dexter seemed to cheer her up and motivate her to come down to Dexter and meet me for lunch (even though she was still suffering from congestion), and she said that she would proceed to get ready and head out. I cycled into town, taking photos of some buildings near the Huron River before heading to the "downtown." There I saw massive cranes working on a bridge going over Mill Creek. Cycling out there, I noticed that the rumor that Dexter would be soon taking its dam out was a past rumor. That, indeed, it was out, and the construction crews were in the middle of taking that opportunity to fix up the bridge.

Having had the opportunity to lead class field trips to the site just downstream of where the dam stood (when it was there), I had a pretty good idea of the quality of habitat and stream flow at that site. The removal of the dam had drained areas of the upstream dam-formed wetlands, and the river had slowly cut into the loose sand and silt that had laid dormant behind the dam wall. Looking at this site, I became really excited about the possibilities of having a master's student group measure the impacts of dam removal on the river and the surrounding (now exposed) land. The benefit is that over the past several years, many classes have been taken to the site below the dam, providing ample data for measurement of a "before dam removal" conditions. I will have to talk to my faculty advisor about this one.

At lunch, we both ordered the Eggs Benedict (aka "Benny") and what turned out to be rather anemic (what my mother calls "American-style") coffee (what my dad calls "brown water"). The Bennys were decent and the hashbrowns crispy (as I like them). During lunch, K.E. asked if I wanted to go up to Pinkney with her - and after some vacillating on my part (not wanting to have her put up with me while sick, while also needing to be in town for a 9:15AM meeting tomorrow) - I did end up acquiescing to her invitation, loaded my bike on her truck, and headed up to Pinkney.

On the way, we stopped at a small garage sale and met two lovely ladies (and a very gregarious Irish Red-and-White Setter puppy) with lots of conversation and horse tack for sale. After talking with them about this-and-that, we headed off with two extension cords, a travel mug, and a watering wand, all purchased for a grand sum of $1!

Returning to her cottage on the lake, we were surprised (K.E. was delighted) to see two friends of K.E. - Katie and John. They had vowed earlier in the week to take a party out to her, and they were true to their word. Luckily, they had only had to wait for 5 mins. Although K.E. was very happy to see them, and proceeded to show them all of her gardening experiments, she did have to cut the meeting short with a promise to hold a real party at a later date. I stayed with the Empress for a little while longer before heading back into Ann Arbor - almost a marathon's worth of riding.

Before continuing this rambling story, I need to make two things clear. The first is that much of rural Michigan does not have bike lanes or much of a shoulder, meaning that bicycle riders have to contend with constantly on the edge of literally riding off the road and having to share the road with motor vehicles that may (or may not) get over very far. The second is that my bike is not what you would call a road bike by any stretch of the imagination. It is a "hybrid" bike - defined as a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike - that allows primarily for an easy mid-speed ride on relatively flat surfaces, but no real aerodynamicity (as you would get on a road bike) or robustness (as you would get on a mountain bike). What's more, the bike (with loaded pannier) weighs in the order of 40 lb (much heavier than a road bike). With these two points in mind, please continue reading (if you can bear it).

Heading out from K.E.'s place, I knew of a bike trail that ran along an old railway route between Jackson, MI and (possibly) Northville, MI (although the existence of the track is no longer visible outside of Livingston County. It would take me along a slightly longer path back to Dexter, but one with wider roads and (I hoped) less traffic, due to a sparser population. Cycling along the bike path was wonderful - trees shading the path and breaking most of the wind. Once I got to Merrill Road, things started to get a little more hairy - wind gusts in my face, hills (remember: heavy bike), cars (remember: no shoulder). Still, I was pretty fresh, having rested for several hours at this point, and getting to Strawberry Lake Road for my brief trek WSW would not be a major issue. However, once I got to Strawberry Lake Road, I ended up cycling right into the wind, making a ride along slowly rolling hills much more tiring than originally expected. I ended up stopping once along that 3.2-mile segment to take some water and catch my breath. (I was still trying to keep within a 2x5 and 2x7 range on this segment).

Turning on to Mast Road (for my 6.5-mile ride into Dexter) proved that this path on my bike was not likely the best choice. It had three hills (one before N. Territorial, one after it, and one before Dexter), and I had to down-shift to 2x3 on all three of them. In addition, much of the ride is through farming country - no trees - and the wind really did not help with the climbs. (Gripe, gripe.) However, after what seemed a really long time, I made it into Dexter - roughly 1 hour after I left K.E.'s cottage - and stopped at the Bearclaw Cafe for some coffee (laced with a lot of sugar for my sore muscles).

After calling the Kitchen Empress to see how she was faring, I decided to cycle back along Ann Arbor-Dexter Road (the direct path back to Ann Arbor). Heading out of Dexter, I was pleasantly surprised to note the presence of a bike lane that transformed into a wide shoulder once out of town. This made cycling along the road much less of a hair-raising ride, and with the massive amount of sugar in my coffee, I was quickly covered the 3.1 miles to the Miller Road/Ann Arbor-Dexter Road junction. Here I was provided with a choice: either continue down Ann Arbor-Dexter (with its wide shoulder), and add 1.6 miles (with some more hills) to my ride, or take Miller Road, with the small (nearly non-existent) shoulder. I chose the latter, since I was gambling that it was also the road less-traveled. I turned out (in my opinion) to be a wise choice, since it had long downhill sections that really allowed me to try and get to my maximum speed on 3x8. Unfortunately, at the bottom of one hill, the back of my shoe accidentally caught the bottom of my pannier, and it unhooked off the rack and was torn off the bike as it was dragged on the ground. This forced me to head back and pick it up, re-attach it, and repack it before starting off again ... to almost immediately do the same thing. (Augh!)

Once my foot-clumsiness was sorted out, I slowly climbed the hill that I found myself at the bottom of up to the 4-way Stop at Wagner road, and then slowly climbed the constructed hill taking me to the M14 overpass bridge. From there, it was mostly downhill home, and I took the opportunity (again) to cycle on 3x8; the sensation of being passed very slowly by a motor vehicle while going really fast on a bike is sensational, let me tell you. Finally, before returning home, I decided to head up Spring Road (on a whim), and noticed a really nice looking house with circular trim work and building design. As I slowly cycled past, I noticed several books lying strewn out along the driveway. Looking through them, I found a 1946 edition of Grey's Anatomy and some pulp fantasy novels. These I put in my pannier before continuing home.

I ended up cycling more than four times farther than I had ever cycled before (admittedly, in two chunks of time), and my legs are sore. Even after soaking in a hot bath for over an hour, I think that they will be complaining either tomorrow or the next day. This is not something I look forward to, but the elation of cycling such a distance really makes me happy. (My arse is quite sore, too, and I'm really thinking that if I'm going to attempt some similar distance again that I should purchase some riding shorts!)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Science dogmatism in the face of "skeptics" wielding false logic

This wasn't meant to be a long entry, but it just sort of turned out that way. I was hoping that I would be able to shed some light on some points about why scientists are generally peeved about today's "skeptics", and why scientists don't worry about trying to cover up or hide gaps in scientific knowledge (like they are sometimes accused of doing). I have tried to keep the discussion (and examples) limited to the area of climate change - although similar things happen in many other "politicized" areas of science - to keep the frame of the argument consistent. I know it's long, and there are several links to articles, science blogs, and YouTube clips, but I hope it will clarify some things that aren't really so obvious, unless you are in the thick of it.


Much of the sentiment of "verbal feeding on the soft flesh of climate change 'skeptic' articles" comes from not the quantity of skepticism, but the quality of it (the same is true in the case of evolution, stem cells, and any other politically/socially hot science topic). Many scientists are not true dogmatists, but have taken that stance with people who are not experts in their field, mostly due to the constant rhetorical attacks that are mounted on them by so-called skeptics. What started as a reasoned two-way conversation among scientists about said skepticism moved inexorably to hostility and a pseudo-dogmatic stance that many scientists feel is the only consistent way of diverting the rhetorical (read: non-evidence-based) skepticism.

Papers like those from OISM rehash old canards that have been refuted several times in the scientific literature (and some of these refutations have been multiply tested as well). Against these sorts of papers, scientists take a morbid relish of tearing it to shreds, possibly due to the ease of being able to do, or the catharsis they get from being able to whale away at a paper they (being some sub-group of scientists) feel encapsulates the sort of attacks against their profession that they feel are constantly being made. It is unlikely - based on previous experience with such "skeptical" authors or groups - to get a reasoned response to have a two-way conversation. Certain groups (like OISM, the Heritage Foundation, and others) have been shown to receive private funds for the sole purpose of casting doubt on scientific claims, without actually "proving" anything of their own (playing off a false-dichotomy fallacy); these groups tend not to seek "truth" or "understanding", but are set up to sow doubt (sometimes by using out-and-out lies). The annoying thing for the attacked scientists is that they are the ones the ones asked to try and prove the "skeptic" point wrong, as opposed to the skeptic proving that he is right (the burden of proof fallacy).

One of the biggest problems comes with the word "skeptic." Scientists, by their training, are expected to be skeptical. They are in the business of hypothesis testing, and a dogmatic scientist will not a good scientist make (one of the first things I was taught at university was, "Never believe anything you see, hear, or read without checking its validity - including this statement"). One of the bases of Western science is the ability to question (forming an assumption and a counter assumption) and, through a logical process of testing the question, arrive at a conclusion that answers whether the assumption is a false one or not. True, it does require a certain level of "buying in" with the dominant scientific theory governing the nature of question being asked (you wouldn't, for example, use the Theory of Gravity to form a question pertaining to Game Theory), but an implicit part of the nature of hypothesis testing is to test the groundwork theory (i.e., if your result is something not predicted by theory, and you prove to yourself that it wasn't caused by user error, then you have just tested the theory). However, science tends to be a conservative business, because science is always concerned - due to the nature of only being able to prove a falsehood - of committing Type I and Type II errors. There cannot be multiple ways that physics operates, for example, and until a major flaw in the theories governing physics (and a proposed theory works to explain the flaw and everything else the previous theory explained), physics experiments will continue to build upon their highly tested (and quite robust) theories. This is the same for all other sciences. Sometimes this means that a field will continuously hit itself on the head with logical errors (such as with phlogiston theory and caloric theory) until such time as a workable theory comes about (theory of thermodynamics).

Counter to this concept of scientific skepticism is that of the modern-day, think-tank funded skeptic. These "skeptics" seem to decide on a desired outcome, and then find evidence (aka "cherry pick" their evidence) that seems to fit that desired outcome. These arguments are therefore based on a logical fallacy of begging the question (aka petitio principii), as opposed to trying to fit an ever-increasing amount of evidence into a single unified theory to explain everything (which is what science tends to do). Another tactic these "skeptics" employ is an argument by authority (argumentum ad verecundiam), where they state that "X number of scientists have serious reservations about Y Theory." When one goes and looks at this evidence, it is quite often (and unsurprising by now) that the numbers have been inflated by a variety of means (such as including people who aren't experts in the field, including experts in the field based on misconstrued statements he/she has made, including dead people, etc.). A final major tactic used by global warming skeptics is to use non-standard avenues of dissent. One of the most powerful global warming deniers was Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who is [in]famous for stating, that "much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science," is also [in]famous for stalling any forward action on global climate change in the senate when he was chairman of the Committee of the Environment and Public Works (which is the committee through which all environmental legislation must pass) by filling the docket with global warming deniers (who had no irrefutable evidence of a lack of global warming) and hostilely questioning scientists (and Al Gore) who were proponents of the theory of global warming (even when he wasn't the head of the committee). In addition to the road blocks created by Inhofe (who was listed as the worst environmental senator by the League of Conservation Voters and likes to use language hearkening back to the Nixonian "silent majority" vs. "elitist minority" false dichotomy, especially when talking about global warming) and other climate change legislation road-blockers, another avenue for attack that skeptics use is an appeal to the public (another form of an argument by authority, since such arguments are generally - although usually falsely - couched in terms that the public in general feels they are expert enough in judging; conflating "weather" with "climate" for example), instead of going through a rigorous scientific peer review prior to public press announcement.

And the "skepticism" does not have a small voice, but is helped along by private funds and - sometimes - governmental stalling (or punitive actions). Due to this rather daunting wall of false skepticism, it isn't surprising that climate scientists have become dogmatic in their responses to claims they have already refuted or people representing private interest groups that have a history of antagonistic relationships with the science of climate change (and sometimes the scientists themselves).

I could go into all the problems with the bases of the arguments made in favor of the "skeptics", but they are generally based on only disproving a facet of climate change science, and not the whole thing (Sen. Inhofe is still in that minority that continues to purport his view that the whole thing is a major hoax). Many try and make the argument that since they are able to show that there is not absolute certainty with topic X, then the entirety of climate change science is wrong (which is what the OISM paper tries to do on several fronts). This is like saying that since Newton's laws of motion do not explain E=mc^2, then Newtonian physics is wrong (with the added implication that the assumption of the Newtonian-physics denier is automatically correct - the false dichotomy). In fact, many scientists are working on filling in those gaps of knowledge, and many actively admit to finding gaps, for it is in these gaps that funding and research interest lie. The thing is, though, that scientists do not generally go to the popular press to report a gap in knowledge, since it is not really the proper forum in which to do so. These gaps get reported in the scientific journals, usually in the discussion or conclusion section of scientific papers. Sometimes, major discussions (via experimental results) take place because of these reported gaps, and when it is solved to the satisfaction of peer review scientists, then it gets reported publicly. Scientists are generally not worried (in the sense of losing legitimacy as a scientist) about gaps in knowledge. In fact, it isn't surprising to go to a science conference and have several people from different universities (who have never contacted each other) give presentations on effectively the same gap in knowledge, but taken from different starting points. In other words, scientists make their reputation on filling gaps, and if anything, they will endeavor to ensure that other scientists don't know that they are working on filling a gap, in case others fill it in faster.

If you want to read a generally good further discussion of this topic, I will refer you to: The Republican War on Science, or to the ScienceBlog The Intersection. Chris Mooney is a journalist (I believe) that does research on the topic of why it seems that the Republican party is hostile to the traditional process of science, and he often writes about the anti-science stance of government on his blog (which is co-written with Sheril Kirshenbaum - who writes about a different set of topics - so make sure to check out the "by" line at the bottom of each entry snippet). If you are going to get the book (either at the library or at the store), I recommend reading the paperback version, since Mooney expands and updates the topics from when the hardcover was published.