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A worrisome state of the State

Contrary Brin - Tue, 02/27/2018 - 15:12
A lesser political missive, this time... but still filled with important matters.

Amid all the wretched traits of last month’s State of the Union speech - the outright lies and refusal to mention the climate change* that might end civilization - one sentence went almost un-noted by most media. 

It's when Donald Trump asked Congress to let cabinet members fire anyone they like. A few pundits did call this an attempt to 'cow the FBI.' But in fact, it is much more - a direct assault on the very concept and American tradition of an apolitical civil service.
“Tonight,” he said, “I call on the congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”...  

In other words, Trump is calling for an end to any semblance of independence for the IRS, the FBI, the Department of Justice, or any other federal agency.
It goes back to 1883! The Civil Service Act established that federal positions (below the top secretaries and political appointments) should be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political affiliation. It was a milestone of western civilization, ending the "spoils system," and for 135 years it let Americans grow accustomed to public servants who - if often nerdy or even officious - were seldom corrupt or grotesquely biased.
Professionals, they do the myriad jobs that keep the most complex civilization of all time spinning along vastly, vastly better than all of its predecessors. Combined. The Civil Service Act protected them from zealous over-reach by FDR, fully as much as they now frustrate the Murdochian quest for feudalism. (Oh, how conservatives will scream for it, when Democrats are back in charge.)  See how far back I've been hollering about this.
This is part of an overall putsch against all "elites" who might resist feudalism's return. The War on Science extends to journalism, medicine, law, teaching, economics and now the "deep state" FBI, intelligence agencies and military officer corps. And above all civil servants.
Name an exception! You must challenge your mad uncles to name one profession of knowledge and skill, that's not under attack. He'll sputter in impotent anger and he won't change his mind, such a lackey he is, to the new plantation lords.
But his wife is quietly listening.

(* North Pole surges above freezing in the dead of winter, stunning scientists.Arctic temperatures are warmer than ever recorded in February.)
== Tensions with Iran ==
Um... Brin linking to... Breitbart? Well, it shows that I don't insulate myself in a closed Nuremberg rally (like they do.) But also it's important to note when evidence partly contradicts a theory of mine! Apparently, after surging for nine months, under Trump, naval tensions with Iran in the Persian Gulf have eased recently, at least briefly counter to my expectation that both the GOP and the Iranian mullahs sough a "Tonkin Gulf" or "Gleiwitz" pretext for war.
Now, taking anything from Breitbart's lie-fest as at-best provisional, I will certainly watch carefully for signs that I am wrong, in my huge pile of reasons to believe that all the world's tyrants want a nifty little Tomahawk War in the Gulf... followed quickly by a northern neighbor stepping in and collecting every marble. The logic still holds. But boy do I want to be wrong!
Oh, but liars gonna lie: Breitbart turns out to be giving half the story. A more reputable link shows that Iranians are replacing easily detected boats with smaller, quieter drones. 
Here's the crux, though. Why do we keep naval units in the Gulf... at all? It's no longer very strategic. Under Obama, the U.S. achieved virtual energy independence! Even Europe is less dependent, making it less and less defensible to keep a carrier task force hemmed in a vulnerable corner where chaos reigns.

Yes, every Republican president rushes to war, so watch out for Reichstag Fires. Still, this is so flimsy, I bet the American people won't buy it.
== Manchurian Candidate ==
Speaking of justified paranoia. Some of you have seen links to this 1980s thriller novel about a naively arrogant businessman who astonishingly wins the Republican presidential nomination, then the election – with help from the Soviet KGB. The Twentieth Day of January, written by British spy author Ted Allbeury in 1980 and just reissued in the U.S., has stunning relevance, especially when combined with The Manchurian Candidate.  
The new president, according to his campaign manager–cum-sleeper agent Andrew Dempsey, enjoys the trappings of office “like a kid in a toy shop” but is somewhat fuzzier on policy beyond promising “to slash taxes, cut unemployment, and achieve peace on earth.”’
== Issues we must face ==
Snippets that say so much: (1) The planet just had its hottest 4 years in recorded history, while confederates fiddle in denial, Earth burns.
(2) And then more treason: Mulvaney requests zero funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Meanwhile K Street lobbying firms have tripled profits. Swamp. Um, drained?
(3) Ah, leadership, inspiration and morale. In Trump's first year in office, 34 percent of top aides have either resigned,been fired or moved to different positions. That level of turmoil is off the charts compared with recent presidencies. This tabulation of indictments and convictions of senior administrationofficials since 1968 shows a simply stunning disparity between Republicans and Democrats. Note that this compilation was made before Donald Trump took office, and hence the GOP figures would by now be staggeringly worse.

Name an era when "America was great." No matter what decade you pick, public service wasn't like this. Nor was there a war on science and every other fact profession.
== Bias in an adversarial process ==
Does anyone in politics or punditry have three neurons to scrape together? Trump supporters scream “bias!” because some at the FBI, or Fusion GPS, or or Robert Mueller’s team may have - despite Mueller’s scrupulous efforts - displayed distaste against Trump or even Republicans. “Bias!” 

Alas, Trump opponents should have a trivial answer - one that no Democrat or journalist or independent public figure has spoken, to my knowledge. That answer is… “So?” I mean prosecutorial bias? Horrors! … Um, *not!*
Dig it, our justice system - like markets, democracy, science etc. - is designed to be adversarial

There is no need for investigators or prosecutors to be completely disinterested or impartial, so long as they follow well-known standards of conduct and subject their behavior to defense discovery and scrutiny. Eagerness to “get that guy” is their job!
Take Ken Starr, whose relentless pursuit of Bill Clinton cost the taxpayers upwards of a hundred million dollars, put the nation through hell, and finally came up with just one thing: a husband desperately fibbing about some consensual-adult 3rd-base infidelity in a hallway. That… was… it. 
Sure, the whole Starr Chamber witch hunt was disgusting political theater, but among all the decrepit lunacies of that affair, the least noxious one was “these investigators blatantly dislike the guy they’re investigating.” 

Starr and his pack committed innumerable lies, torts and even criminal offenses. But enthusiasm for their goal was not one of them. So long as a skilled defense team has full access to every action and datum… and so long as the courts are fair and unbiased… then prosecutors should certainly want to succeed at prosecuting.
All of the current, desperate confederate whining against Mueller et. al. is far beyond hypocritical. It isn’t remotely logical! And it is a sign of the microcephalic stupidity of liberals, that they are unable to pause, perceive this counter-meme - and a myriad others - and actually respond with knife-like logic. Caught between evil-treason on one side and stupidity on the other… what can we do?
Well, start by subscribing to CONTRARY BRIN!
 == The Authoritarians ==
Highly recommended by many: The Authoritarians by Prof. Bob Altemeyer. One of you summarized “Altemeyer reported the nucleus of the authoritarian mindset was the belief that "It's a dangerous world." From this, all else follows. The idea that the Strong Man at the top must be obeyed and believed, because he will protect us from that Dangerous World. The gut emotional response that any evidence that contradicts the Authority must be Fake News. The eager embrace of violence, the consistent hypocrisy, all of it from fear of the Dangerous World Out There.” 

Indeed, this jibes with the findings of neural scientists that Republicans tend to have much stronger fight-flight-fear reactions and also easily triggered disgust.
Finally, the Morality Police not only gave Two Scoops a mulligan on using a prostitute while his wife was nursing their child... and all the other openly avowed P-Grabbing crap... but now the GOP finance chair resigns for sex scandals... and it happens to be one of the world's top Gambling Lords. Another casino mogul funnels laundered "profits" through his Macau clubs to the GOP from a foreign government. Um... our parents' version of conservatism disliked gambling, prostitution, slumlords, divorce, lying and bullying. Oh, and treason.
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

The Big Idea: Tobias Buckell

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/27/2018 - 12:04
In their new novel The Tangled Lands, Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell posit a world where magic is real — and exacts a toll, one different from what one might usually expect. Buckell is here today to expand and expound on that toll, and the parallels that toll has in our real world. TOBIAS BUCKELL: […]

View From a Hotel Window, 2/26/18: Hoboken

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 02/26/2018 - 14:44
There are worse views to have, honestly. Sadly nearly all my time will be devoted to work while I’m here, so I probably won’t get into the city itself. But I’ll be back in April for the book tour, and am very much looking forward to that. Also, of course, a very different skyline than […]

Back From JoCo Cruise

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 02/26/2018 - 10:46
I’m back! Did you miss me? No? Well, fine. Nevertheless I have returned from a week at sea, on the 2018 iteration of the JoCo Cruise. Briefly, it was wonderful, and I had a fabulous time, as always. I would go on about it, and probably will later, but right now I’m actually back at […]

Fatal flaws of our enlightenment?

Contrary Brin - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 16:19
I post this heading out the door to speak tonight at the California Democratic Party Convention, in San Diego. And yes, they even invite registered Republicans, when they have important ideas to share. Or at least vital questions. For example....

Is our Great Experiment in danger of coming to an end? Certainly, the world seems filled with forces pushing for Government of the people, by the people, for the people to perish from the Earth.

Ezra Klein summarizes the book: “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. Klein’s appraisal is cogent and very important reading in its own right. I urge you to find time for it, even if (like me) you lack time for the source material. As you might guess, I agree that Donald Trump is “not the disease” but a symptom, top-to-bottom. Here’s an excerpt:
‘“2017 was the best year for conservatives in the 30 years that I’ve been here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week. “The best year on all fronts. And a lot of people were shocked because we didn’t know what we were getting with Donald Trump.”
"‘The best year on all fronts.' Think about that for a moment. If you want to know why congressional Republicans are opening an assault on the FBI in order to protect Trump, it can be found in that comment. This was a year in which Trump undermined the press, fired the director of the FBI, cozied up to Russia, baselessly alleged he was wiretapped, threatened to jail his political opponents, publicly humiliated his attorney general for recusing himself from an investigation, repeatedly claimed massive voter fraud against him, appointed a raft of unqualified and occasionally ridiculous candidates to key positions, mishandled the aftermath of the Puerto Rico hurricane, and threatened to use antitrust and libel laws against his enemies.
‘And yet McConnell surveyed the tax cuts he passed and the regulations he repealed and called this not a mixed year for his political movement, not a good year for his political movement, but the best year he’d ever seen.’
I also agree that we face an existential moment in our experiment in Democracy. Every generation of Americans have experienced attempts by the oligarchs of that era to suborn our institutions and laws and cheat, in order to restore the standard human pattern of feudalism. These attempts correlate with phases of our recurring Civil War. 

But never before has a large share of the wealth elite chosen to foster open war against every single knowledge or fact-using profession, from science, teaching, medicine and journalism to the "deep state" FBI, intel agencies and military officer corps. This time it is all-or-nothing. Perhaps because the gnome families behind this putsch know that the Enlightenment Experiment is on the verge of its greatest-ever successes.
Klein – and the authors of  “How Democracies Die” do suffer, however, from myopia. They give examples like 1930s Germany and more-recent Venezuela, for how democracies can fail amid whimpers, or else cheers of either right wing or left-wing populism. But this ignores the failure modes that ended earlier trial-runs, such as Periclean Athens and the Florentine Republic.

The lesson overall is that experiments in flat-open-fair -- or diamond-shaped --civilizations always result in spectacular creativity, fecundity, error-correction, science, art and unleashing of talent... but they are also unstable. Beset by oligarchic attacks and by cyclical waves of citizen immaturity-impulsiveness, they have always -- in the past -- succumbed and collapsed back into classic, pyramidal hierarchies of power. That, certainly, is the lesson -- to give up on any hope of wise democracy -- being pushed in confederate media and by world despots, allied in the cause of bringing down the West. 

It is the preaching of despair and demigod worship conveyed within science fiction by authors like Orson Scott Card. And by cyclical history buffs of both the mad far-left and the treasonous entire-right. 

Only... isn't 250 years a record for such an experiment to last? And, having restored it and re-invigorated it many times -- e.g. during the "Greatest Generation" -- can't we confidently imagine doing it again?

== Lift the banner of the Union ==
Even more biting – for those of you who weren’t angry and riled-up enough – is this essay in The Atlantic - Boycott the Republican Party, by Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes -- asserting that the only way to save American Conservatism… and possibly the Republican Party … is to burn their political power to the ground, so that perhaps a phoenix of adult-sane conservatism can rise from the ashes. “The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period.” 
Of course the gnomes and their servant-shills wage war against all fact-using professions because those are the “elites” who stand in the way of return to aristocratic rule by… well, imbeciles, of course. Because exactly what do these people think will happen when they make enemies of all the folks who know stuff and can invent and build everything from lasers to nukes to genetic codes to AI? How, exactly, is this supposed to work out for you?
In my novel Existence, I portray a much smarter aristocracy trying to forge a deal, instead, with the “boffin elites.” But, of course, just like the inventor-entrepreneur billionaires like Musk, Bezos, and Gates, the fact-folks will likely have no part of such treason.

See (below) how great new candidates are rising from the "fact communities" -- from science and from the military officer corps. But first...


== An alternative view… called “optimism” ==
Let's swing to a different tome that Bill Gates has gone all-out about, calling Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, by Steven Pinker, “My new favorite book of all time.”  
Enlightenment Now is the follow-up to Steven Pinker’s groundbreaking The Better Angels of Our Nature, which angered both the far-left and the entire-mad-right by showing how especially violence - but also other metrics of progress - have improved everywhere that the overall progressive agenda has taken hold. Here, Prof Pinker presents the big picture of human progress: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? “Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.” review in Kurzweil News.
== And optimism mixed with paranoia? ==
Edward Snowden pushing a new privacy-sousveillance tech called “Haven” that lets folks with cell-phones to apply transparency at the powerful while protected against being discovered. The good news: this Haven thing is open source, offering some small hope that it might not turn into a snake that bites the user. Maybe. The bad news? This is really vague!  For example, only at the very beginning of the video, when Snowden says “spare android phone,” do we get a hint that this is not an app for your regular pocket-robot, but rather something you can use your old phone for, outside of the tightly controlled “networks.”
Also, philosophically, while I am a big believer in sousveillance and deem this likely to be helpful, especially in states and regions where power oppresses, it is nevertheless based upon an assumption and desire to counter asymmetries of transparency with your own asymmetries of transparency.  That is a dangerous game and not what I personally have fought for. Moreover, it's a game that’s unlikely the little guy will ever win for very long. Still, I hope some of you will join this Haven community and report back, from time to time.  I’d rather it were tried, than not.
== Fact people volunteers ==
Many of you recall my  essay calling for a "Year of Colonels". Well, Conor Lamb is everything (it seems) that I asked for, when I said we must run sane, pro-science and fact, purple ex-officers in every red district in America. Every State Assembly seat. Every State Senate, City Council and dogcatcher position.  This 33 year old retired Marine officer, federal prosecutor and devout Catholic has a chance to win a special election vs the GOP candidate (who's proclaiming "I'm more Trump than Trump!") in a solid-red district in Pennsylvania, where the former Republican rep had to resign... caught ordering his mistress to get an abortion.
If that means liberals in all those places will then have to negotiate with sane, decent, calm, science-respecting, rights-progressive, environmentally-responsible -- but temperamentally conservative crewcut types who sometimes go hunting -- instead of confronting today's insane, fact-hating traitor-shills of Rupert Murdoch... then live with that!

American conservatism won't die, but it can be shaken out of its current, nightmare fever or jibbering lunacy. Each of us must find one "ostrich" who might be wakened, and make him or her our mission.

A broad front... a Big Tent... and the intelligence to run the right people in each district... that's how the Union will win this phase (number 8) of the American Civil War against a risen Confederacy that's absolutely (as always) treason.

And here's a Mississippi biochemist who's also showing that fact folks can fight back.  

Step back from your suicidal putsch, oligarchs! If you succeed in bringing down the enlightenment experiment and "government by the people," you will reap ashes. We fact people know how to make and do stuff. As Bruce Banner put it:

"You won't like us when we're angry."
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Looking upward...and inward to your brain! Plus "the Bell Curve" is baaack. And science misc

Contrary Brin - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 16:05
A science potpourri today. 

== Looking in and looking up! ==
Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere is a collection of fiction, illustrations, and speculative timelines exploring the near future of near space. Very near space. It is available here to download, entirely free and available in EPUB and MOBI formats, and through the Apple iBooks store. (I collaborated on a little adventure story.)
Cosmic-ray muon radiography allows us to visualize the interiors of large, stony objects. Researchers report using it to study the known and potentially unknown voids in the Great Pyramid in a non-invasive way. They report the discovery of a large void (with a cross section similar to the Grand Gallery and a length of 30 m minimum) above the Grand Gallery, which constitutes the first major inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the 19th century. 

At NASA NIAC we funded a study to use this method to map the interiors of asteroids. Wow. 
== The METI cult, at it again ==

Okay, until now, these “messaging to ET" stunts were mostly harmless. When Frank Drake sent the “Arecibo Message” in 1974 — a brief blip to the Hercules Cluster, decades ago, he chose an objective 24,000 light years away, in order not to commit humanity to a fait accompli it might regret.  But the “METI cult” has now declared open war upon us and on our children: The San Francisco-based METI Institute sent its message toward the red dwarf star GJ 273 (also known as Luyten's Star), 12 light-years away from Earth. The message was sent in October from the Eiscat transmitter in Tromsø.”

Now to be clear, I like Doug Vakoch, the METI-I head.  A nice fellow… and now a cultist, who has declared his intention to perform sneak attacks like this one, avoiding all proper scientific vetting, discussion or process, gambling our future based on questionable assumptions and assertions. Some of these nostgrums he repeats, despite knowing them to be utterly disproved.

== This is your brain on the spotlight ==
The idea of “brain hacking,” or using technology to augment brain function and human intelligence, is controversial, but is taking off, nevertheless. In 2017, Tesla CEO and founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, launched a venture called Neuralink. 

Facebook has also said it is developing technology that can read brain waves. In November, Microsoft founder Bill Gates committed $100 million of his own money to boost research and fund start-ups working on Alzheimer’s R&D

Peter Diamandis’s recent  “Visioneers Summit” gave its highest honors this year to the team tackling Alzheimer’s disease.
And yet… as research advances, we keep finding ways in which the problem is larger than we ever imagined. Twenty years ago, some thought we might model mentation (and thus maybe create AI) when our computers matched the number of “processors” in a human brain – about 100 billion neurons.  Despite its recent decay, Moore’s Law has surpassed that goal now, and quite then some.  

Okay then, folks cried: “Aha! The processor analog isn’t cells, but the ten to a thousand flashy synapses for every neuron, that trigger and flash like elements of a computer!” There are perhaps 100 trillion of those. Until recently, the dogma was that a compact box containing that many silicon flip flops would just have to come aware.
Only now we are learning ever-more about intracellular and intercellular computation. It happens that each neuron appears to have a great many sub-components that work together or against each other in murky, nonlinear ways, determining whether and when each synapse will flash! (I was among those predicting this, 20 years ago.) For example, each neuronal dendrite seems to feed into a chain of support structures, each of which plays some complex and poorly understood part in this decision-making cascade. 

And it goes on! The surrounding glial and astrocyte cells are no longer seen as just support units, but appear to interact with the neurons in sophisticated ways. 

So, Moore’s law might require us to make compact boxes with quadrillions or circuit elements. Nor does it stop there. Because now we get to… quantum.
Yes, there are the incredible speculations of Roger Penrose and his colleagues, who suggest that the tiny microtubule organelles within neurons engage in some degree of quantum entanglement -- (we've already seen there's some entanglement in chloroplasts) -- that helps to create consciousness in ways that go beyond just computation. Woof!

I had several opportunities, lately, to ask Sir Roger about these concepts and many others. Then lunch a couple of weeks ago with Freeman Dyson. And I hang with Larry Smarr and Vint Cerf. What, me brag and name drop? No. Not me.

== The “Bell Curve” rears its ugly head ==
Some members of our blog comment community raised the issue of “The Bell Curve” or whether there might be some systematic differences between races, genders etc. that it would be dishonest to suppress. Here's the assertion:

1. Population studies of various distinct social groups clearly do show there are differences in intelligence, and research shows that a significant fraction is nature.
2. If social policies are based on the assumption that differences in achievements between groups is all nurture, no nature, then these social policies are likely to be sub optimal.
Logically, true, so far. Alas, though, Bell Curve defenders utterly miss the point.
1. The “differences in averages” (DIA) that might be found in comparisons of bell curves have always diminished over time, with the application social resources to eliminate disadvantages, prejudices and discouragements.  Given that blatant history, the only useful policy application of comparison of bell curves is to call attention to a likely need for investment! 
(Yes, the rate of narrowing of DIAs may diminish, over time, settling on some “natural” DIA. So? Read on.)
2. It is clear that the top motive behind “The Bell Curve” and its zealots is racism, sexism and desperate need for confederate-style solace in symbolic superiority. Yes, let us admit that some are attracted to the topic out of intellectual orneriness. The latter group should make strenuous efforts to distinguish themselves from the racists… as I describe legitimate climate skeptics distinguishing themselves from members of the insane denialist cult.
3. What if there truly are some systematic differences in width or center of bell curves among groups? There's a clear example: while ending stupid assumptions shifted the distribution of women capable of military service -- and the military is ecstatic over the quality of its female service members -- it did not change the inherent difference in average physical height from the average for men. 

But even such residual, systematic differences do not mean what the racists and sexists think it means. Which brings us to our most important rebuttal point.
4. The blatant fact of human individual diversity - plus 250 years of the American Experiment - show that it is both immoral and impractical to apply group stereotypes upon individuals in ways that restrict any individual’s right or ability to say “I am different from that average.”
It is #4 that proves the despicable core of the Bell Curve zealots.  Even if some remnant of observed differences in averages (DIA) did not decline with the application of resources and justice, there would be no justification for the racist-sexist-bigoted application of DIA upon any individual who is seeking to prove herself or himself.
Even if a person cannot parse the intellectual arguments I have made here, there is a basic conclusion: if that person seeks to restrict another person’s individual ambition, based upon membership in an involuntary classification like race or gender, then that bigot is a nasty, degraded person who did voluntarily join a classification group! One we should all treat with great contempt.

== Surprises of science ==
This Alaskan city is warming so fast, algorithms removed the data because it seemed unreal. And yes, freakishly strong snow in the U.S. southeast is a symptom of warming! Attend a community college science class.
Amazing. Greenland sharks reach maturity at about 150 years of age and some have been measured (by pulsing Carbon 14 in their eye lenses) at 400+ years old.
And while we’re in the Arctic: Want cognitive dissonance?  Trump's newly signed National Defense Authorization Act includes a significant discussion of the effects of climate change -- going so far as to call it a “direct threat to the national security of the United States.”
We’ve know this for years. The U.S. military is a fact-centered profession, and thus unable to screech denialist incantations, while the Russians build 12 new major naval and marine bases on the Arctic Ocean. Of course, this is one reason why the War on Science and All Fact-using Professions has now expanded to include the FBI, Intel Agencies and the US military officer corpse… now denounced by confederate loonies as “deep state” traitors.

Oh, BTW... we'll be in the Arctic in one month.... brrrr....

== Miscellaneous items ==
There’s serious talk of wild polio (not caused by the Sabin vaccine itself) being wiped out by June. Wow.

Ford employees are using exoskeletons, and they may change manual labor forever. Ford’s exoskeletons protect employees from repetitive motion injuries and decrease fatigue. Watch the video!
Ten unsolved science mysteries.
Under the category of Things We Should Be Doing Anyway – or TWODA. “In Africa, Geneticists Are Hunting Poachers.” 
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

The Big Idea: Myke Cole

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 09:00
For this Big Idea, author Myke Cole has some thoughts on how people find themselves governed and why — and how these thoughts have resonance for his latest work, The Armored Saint. MYKE COLE: Nobody trusts the government. The single greatest casualty of the political chaos of the past year is our faith in our […]

Tribal echo chambers - can we (can you) break out?

Contrary Brin - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 16:53
Before launching into the general problem, let's start with the very worst example of echo-chamber thinking: the absolute unwillingness of major political factions in America to negotiate, or even talk to each other, about gun violence in America.  

Fatigued by the lunacy, I present, yet again, my own proposed compromise that might offer a win-win. It would license and register all the weapons used for very bad things... while setting aside permanently our right to own - without registration or interference, ever - the one personal weapon that could serve us if we had to rebel. 

More importantly, my proposal demonstrates how to seek the deepest root of your opponent's fear -- the thing that propels and justifies his intransigence. There can be logic - of a sort - under the obstinacy. And you are supposed to be the logical ones.

Do not mistake the disease for the symptom. It is this sickness of obstinate intransigence that our enemies most wanted to instill. It is how civilizations fall.
== Our greatest talent -- self-delusion -- now weaponized ==
In Earth (1989), I made one of the earliest forecasts that our then-new public Internet would lead to millions creating echo chambers of self-reinforcing opinion — bubbles of online tribalism — that could even verge onto veritable e-nuremberg rallies, exploited by dark powers. In that novel, I proposed that the solution might come via tools of transparency, a concept that evolved into The Transparent Society.

Now we see that the Web - which was supposed to be our immune system against lies and error - has been turned against us, much like a deliberately induced auto-immune disease

This is well and terrifyingly described at Berit Anderson’s SCOUT site. There, she appraises the way enemies of the Enlightenment have deployed against us “AI weaponized propaganda.”
It’s a complex dilemma, much as AIDS was. Only, as I also described in EARTH, there are powerfully smart and creative forces who seek solutions. Some are doing so out of survival self-interest, e.g. Facebook is now vetting news sources that feed their customers’ biases.

(Full disclosure: I consulted with Facebook's teams about this, last summer, when the extent of the calamity was just becoming clear. I'm told that some of my ideas were "influential" but I'm not clear yet on which ones. There are definitely ways to alert users to refutation of rumor, without making the surfing/posting experience less pleasant.)

Other efforts are described by Nathan Gardels of the World Post:
In fact, we are already seeing evidence of a “flight to quality” in the wake of the dominance of peer-driven social media that is populated with hate speech, fake news and alternative facts. Online subscriptions to The Washington Post — The WorldPost’s publishing partner — have tripled during the first year of the Trump presidency.
“Even so, the Internet remains the battleground of tribal warfare, where a cacophony of voices contends to establish the consensual truths that are the essential foundation of democratic discourse. The global “anti-tribe tribe” claims authority through the impartial methods and universal standards of reason it employs in the pursuit of an objective social consensus. Ideological, religious or nativist adherents embrace allegiance to the solidity of belonging against what they regard as the rootlessness of a cosmopolitan caste....
“As the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk noted, the eruption of tribalism in our global age is a response to the “liquidized” identities that have supplanted the territorial patriotism that was culturally ingrained during the long history of agricultural societies. New assertions of identity, he argues in an interview, also mark a “return of plurality” in the face of “helpless universalism.” ...

“Similarly, David Goodhardt writes that reconciling tribal attachment and the notion of a “common good” is the great challenge. “Moderate nationalism,” Goodhardt notes paradoxically, is “an important glue for liberal societies” — in short, a home between the globalist “anywhere” and the local “somewhere.””
Okay, maybe that's a bit hifalutin and arcane. I prefer pragmatism, pointing out to today's confederates -- and ISIS nostalgists and other romantics -- that there are zero measures by which their prescriptions work. When was "America Great"? Presumably under the "Greatest Generation"... who invested heavily in our shared infrastructure and major projects, under a social contract fashioned by their favorite living human. Franklin Roosevelt. 

== ...and from one of Earth's worst humans ==
In contrast, George F. Will is at it again. Openly admitting that U.S. Conservatism has gone insane, Will refuses to take any responsibility for his open-eyed and knowing choice to foster the movement’s capture by feudalist enemies of the Western Enlightenment Experiment. Enemies not just of democracy but competitive-fair market capitalism, as well -- the very this that (lying) he claims to revere. 

Rather, he keeps waving hypnotic baubles and incantations in front of millions of gullible readers: “Yes, our side has gone corrupt, treasonous and crazy… but… but lib’ruls are worse!”
In this latest version of the magic spell, I carefully looked for any paragraph that was not essentially a lie — either directly or through verbal legerdemain. I found three!  Just three paragraphs, in which the core was not: “Listen to how smoothly and confidently I spin out erudite-sounding citations! Never mind that almost nothing that I am saying is actually true!”
And I mean it literally. Only three out of thirty paragraphs did not contain an open and bald-faced lie. Shame on the Post and anyone else who does not follow this traitor around, calling him what he is.
== Are you taxed more for income you sweated for? ==
Listen to this brilliant economist all the way through... Dambisa Moyo interviewed about automation, investment, demographics and helping to keep capitalism healthy.
Nothing better distills Republican philosophy better than this: “The House tax overhaul raises taxes on high-income earners who make their money through labor, but delivers a huge tax cut to passive business owners.” 

This is classic. Adam Smith described how elites of any society adjust the rules to benefit passive “rent-seeking,” so the owner caste won’t have to innovate, build factories, take risks or lift a finger, just collect dividends, interest, rents or stock rises at low tax rates. (Rates were ZERO for nobles in Smith’s day, leading to revolution in America and France.)
Adam Smith denounced this cheating, which warps markets and demolishes genuine competition by those aiming to create goods and services. Smith knew this kind of lordly cheating ruined free and creative-competitive markets in every civilization. In comparison, socialism and “bureaucrats” can be threats to markets -- but historical examples of lethality are far, far more rare than the prevalent danger. Oligarchy.
Again, our parents in the Greatest Generation (GG) knew this. Watch movies from that era! Just as the U.S. Founders rebelled against the King and his caste of cheaters, and the Union overcame the cheating plantation lords, the WWII generation tamed -- without killing or ruining -- its own oligarchs who plotted to revive feudalism. Only, led by FDR, the GGs did it with mild reforms, not revolution, tilting the balance to favor honest labor and entrepreneurial creativity, instead of passive rent-seeking.
But the GG revolution has been chipped away. The Cheater Caste is back. The top 0.1% owns more than the bottom 90%, yet they have 40% of Americans convinced that the only threat to freedom and markets is “bureaucrats.” Since Reagan, the incantation has been to slash taxes on the rich, in promise that the rich will then do what the vast majority of them have never, ever done in the history of our species… investing their gusher of tax gifts in productive innovation or “supply.”
To be clear, not one prediction for “Supply Side (Voodoo) Economics” (SSVE) has ever come true, ever. Once. Even once. At all. Ever. Demand that your crazy-confederate uncle come up with one example.
Oh, their hired shills offer lines like “The Inheritance Tax is a DEATH TAX!” In fact, the heirs who receive money are U.S. citizens RECEIVING MONEY, and our social contract is that you get taxed when you receive money! You pay 25%+ on money you receive for working hard. The Republicans want pampered scions to pay nothing for wealth they receive by doing nothing.
== Put it starkly ==
Passive income is preferred over money earned through labor? Or from creativity, or active investment? How did we get talked into such an outrageously monstrous cheat? Your taxes are higher precisely because the Rentier Caste pays at low rates that have allowed them to amass nearly all of the nation’s wealth.
Make no mistake, this betrayal of fair competition leads to revolution, as it did in Adam Smith’s day. The smartest of the rich - those who actually invest in R&D and innovations and products — know this, and want their own class to be taxed higher!
They want this because it’s fair and will help us to thrive.

They want this to avoid pushing a spectacularly skilled and educated middle class into torches, pitchforks and tumbrels.

The tech zillionaires are not like the ones financing the GOP’s oligarchic putsch - the gambling kingpins, Wall Street parasites, inheritance lordlings, and those who bribed their way into cushy resource extraction boons.
The smart ones, who can see, are like JFK’s father, who supported FDR, saying: “I’d rather give up half my fortune, helping make a healthy middle class, than lose it all to revolution.” (paraphrased)
And finally....
Passed along by Russ Daggatt: "Thanks to Trump, Democrats now have a more favorable view of the FBI than Republicans do. In the last month, Republicans have gone from 65% favorable to 38% favorable. Trump has already caused a radical shift in Republican opinion on Putin and Russia (more positive) and the NFL (more negative)."
Fascinating. The very same poli- tburo plotters who the US right despised and feared, became best-buds due to... a change of symbolism. From communist lapel pins to oligarch/orthodox pins. The same guys (wearing better suits), pursuing similar methods with the same aim - bringing Pax Americana and American world leadership to an end - are suddenly great pals of the US right... because Rupert Murdoch says so. 

And the FBI that has always opposed those agents - many of them the very same people - are now villains.

The... Confederacy... is... treason. Always was. Always will be.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Out For a Bit

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 16:36
Hey folks — taking a break for about ten days. I’ve scheduled a Big Idea post for next week, which you’ll see pop up, but otherwise I’ll be off the Internet entirely until the 25th at least, and probably not back here until the 27th or so. Be good to each other until I get […]

Whoops, I Forgot To Update Today, So Here, Have Some Music

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/15/2018 - 21:54
It’s Petra Haden doing an acapella version of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars.” Enjoy. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I got the name for Haden’s Syndrome from her. She knows. I sent her a signed copy of Lock In.

Thoughts on Pixel Buds

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 16:09
Because apparently I’ve gone entirely over to the Google side of the force and will be getting “Pixel 4 Lyfe” tattooed somewhere on my body, I’ve acquired a pair of Pixel Buds, the Google-manufactured wireless earbuds that are designed to work specifically with the Google Pixel 2 line of phones (which I have), although I […]

Another sly trick: the Quibble Method - and cornering reality

Contrary Brin - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 15:10
Last time, I appraised three of the magical incantations that are used in the War on Science -- and against every fact-using profession -- in order to discredit all the folks who actually know stuff, while pretending to sound logical. We need to understand these cheats at their most basic level, in order to fight back against weapons-of-darkness.

An example from last time: we all know that: "Just being smart and knowing stuff doesn't automatically make you wise."

Alas, the extrapolation -- never spoken explicitly, but slyly and relentlessly implied on Fox and every confederate medium -- is: "Being smart and knowing stuff makes you unwise." 

Scratch the surface, and you'll find this lunatic catechism, whose purpose is to generate distrust of any "smartypants elite" that might compete with oligarchy. thwarting feudalism's return.
== More of these sneaky messages ==

 Okay then, here's another I've mentioned before. The Quibble Method lets manipulative gasbags neutralize anyone who actually knows something, about any topic. 
Again, you start by asserting something that's obviously true! Like: 

"None of us - even scientists - can directly perceive objective reality. Everything passes through flawed senses.” 
This, too, is blatantly true!  In fact, science itself taught the hard lesson to us, after millennia of being told by earlier elites - kings and feudal lords and priests, that they did have perfect knowledge of Truth with a capital "T." 
Only now comes the sneaky trick, after saying a true thing aloud. With a sly wink, the implied general extension is:
"Therefore, scientists can't be trusted! 

"Sure they try to make models of the world that edge ever-closer to objective reality, disproving those that are clearly and decisively farther. But ignore all that. Just assume they are like priests, of old! A priesthood is a priesthood. And science is just another religion - or 'community standard' - like any other and no better."
Let's pause and be clear; there are elements of the far-fringe, postmodernist left who incant this "all is subjective" nonsense, as volubly and vigorously as happens on the entire, mad right. (Note, though, the difference between "far-fringe" and "entire.")
It's an insidious pattern. Take an obviously true particular, and use it to imply an obviously crazy generality! Of course it leads to madness, like a recent missive from Donald Trump's appointed CDC head, declaring that biomedical scientists must adjust their judgements based upon "community standards."
In fact, science is not about community standards of truth.  It is about a community standard for processes that we've learned - from hard experience - best enable competitive researchers to falsify any rival's model that proves farther away from objective reality than their own. Indeed, there are few more-competitive entities on the planet than scientists.

Those rival theories and models that survive this process are not raised up as gods or holy writ! Nor are they called "objective reality." If they survive this process of incessant testing, it is only for this round, because successful theories or models undergo mitosis -- they simply split into daughters, that then repeat the creative endeavor of ceaseless testing.
If we cannot directly perceive objective reality, then at least we can corner it!  And we are doing this daily (I believe with His blessing) to God.

== Learn to refute the quibbles ==
Amid the terrific, elevated discussions that take place in the Contrary Brin comments section, one doubtful skeptic-of-science said: 

But I don’t think science leads us to the Truth it leads us to the useful. I consider that to be a very important difference.”
Alas, dear valued member of this community, that statement is somewhat wrong.  Hence, I will reiterate.
Science is not about achieving the useful, any more than it is about proving perfected Truth. Sure, a cornucopia of useful things fall out naturally.  But science is about carving away what’s not true. 

When I look at a chair and fondle it and smell it and measure it with instruments, I still cannot know what the chair is, with objective-Platonic certainty.  But I can eliminate one hell of a lot of things that the chair is not.
We corner objective reality by allowing less and less room for it to fool us.  And since humans are delusional beings, that means using reciprocal-competitive processes to pierce each others’ delusions, using ever-more exacting evidence.
Let other priesthoods declare Truth! We … do… not… pretend to!  They hate and fear us, because we can demolish their “Truths” the way we enjoy and thrill at demolishing each others’ theories!  And when a theory proves to not be falsified by all experiments and attacks, sure, it gets temporary glory as our current model of the world. 

But that only means it will spin off sub-variants in finer detail, and we’ll smash most of those!
I have likened it to the Dance of Shiva, in which the god leaps upon a part of the world and destroys it… so that something better immediately pops up when he hops away. And he smiles, beats his drum, and says “I’ll be back!”

So it is with theories and models. When we smash some part of our current paradigm -- say of gas-liquid dynamics laws in fine-grained computer-simulations of meteorology and climate science -- that's not an invalidation. (Not usually, that is; though sometimes that happens, too.) Generally, the result is an incremental improvement that often gets validated quickly, with another 5% or so better predictive capacity. 
Look, those who repeat these silly, anti-science calumnies and Fox-isms aren't all bad people, or agents of darkness. We have to understand these ways they have been tricked  into joining an anti-science, anti-enlightenment cult. We have to fight it, not only because it is all about proto-feudalism and wrecking everything we've created. Or because if it wins, our grandchildren are doomed.

We must fight it also because it is so joyless! It's the reason there weren't riots of joy in the streets (think Philadelphia, after the Eagles won) when Curiosity landed on Mars! Or when the Falcon Heavy launch showed us how wonderfully competent we humans can be!  (See me rant about the importance of bragging and joy!)

We must get our neighbors to grasp how much we relish this forward movement of creative destruction, for its own sake. The competitive creativity that underlies most human progress, that can only happen - ironically - when we cooperate to regulate and eliminate cheating. (The central lesson of Adam Smith.)

We do this knowing that the thing we chase – whether it's successful innovation, or objective reality, or God – will keep escaping, giggling, into the remaining fractal, diminishing and yet never-ending shadows. And we – learning every Godlike skill – give chase.  . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

The Big Idea: Karen Healey

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 10:59
Author Karen Healey has some very specific advice about the use of apostrophes, and prologues. What is it and how does it have an impact on The Empress of Timbra, the novel she co-wrote with Robyn Fleming? Healey is here to fill you in on the details — with all the apostrophes in the correct […]

Cover Reveal of The Consuming Fire Over at Verge

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 02/12/2018 - 14:10
Yes! Go see it! Here’s the link. The artist is Sparth, i.e., the same artist who did such great work with the cover for The Collapsing Empire. Plus there’s an interview with me there talking a bit about what’s going on in the book. No spoilers on specifics, but there’s a discussion on general themes […]

Correlation, causation and precaution. Dismal logic underlying the Wars on Science.

Contrary Brin - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 21:09
Lisa Pryor, a medical doctor, gives cogent and articulate insight into “the online world of alternative-health practitioners, wellness bloggers, whole-food chefs and Gwyneth Paltrow.” While the roots of such impudence are healthy - individualism and traditions of Suspicion of Authority - these reflexes are exploited by charlatans and/or the gullible (my words, not hers.) 

We'' get back to medical fads and all that, toward the end. But let's get general, first. We can have impudent individualism without waging war on all of the "elite" fact-professions, filled with folks whose only major crime is knowing a lot, being real smart and caring.
Let's zoom in upon a weapon that’s often deployed in this war – a phrase that in itself offers wisdom, but that's been turned into a magical spell, cast against the very professions who taught it.
“Correlation is not the same as causation.”
This is a core catechism that's drilled into most of us scientists, along with “I might be wrong,” and“build your competitive science rep by demolishing the half-baked work of those bums at MIT.”
Alas, “Correlation is not the same as causation” has become an incantation parroted by Fox News and others campaigning to undermine science by -- in effect -- claiming that nothing can ever be proved. (See also, below two other incantations that will be very familiar to you.)

 In fact, sifting for correlations is how experimental science begins. A strong correlation demands: “hey, check this out!” 
But it’s more than that. A strong correlation shifts the Burden of Proof. When we see a strong correlation, and especially when the matter at-hand might have health or safety or security implications, then we are behooved to at least begin taking preliminary precautions, in case the correlation proves to be causative. 

Sometimes the correlation is later demonstrated not to be causal and a little money has been wasted on unneeded precautions. But this often proves worthwhile, given long lead times in technology.  Example, we were fortunate that work had already begun on alternative refrigerants to CFCs, when their role in ozone damage was finally proved.
Another example: terrorism experts sift for correlations and apply intelligence resources to follow up, while giving potential targets cautious warnings. Many correlations don't pan out. But a burden falls on those saying "ignore that."

Getting specific in regards the Climate Denialist Cult: if they were sincere, they would say: "We have doubts that (pick your shifting goal post) there's any warming, or that humans cause it, or that a warmer Earth wouldn't be better! But, let's fund vigorous R&D in sustainable energy and climate science, just in case 99% of the folks who have studied the atmosphere turn out to be right, after all." Those who say this may be the real article, genuine skeptics. Like Berkeley's Richard Muller.

This approach becomes even more obvious when you realize that many climate related R&D endeavors are TWODA -- or Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway. Like ensuring that citizens can buy more efficient cars, heaters, homes and lights, saving gobs of money now going to legacy-carbon companies. (Gee, I wonder who would hate to see that?) 

Alas, the vast majority of denialists do not take this approach -- agreeing on general precautions, just in case the experts prove right. Instead, they are led to declare that nothing should be done, until the danger is proved, beyond any shadow of a doubt. Who... pray tell... what sane person does that?
== Another incantation: Scientific Consensus ==

Parse this carefully as I repeat it. The statement: “Correlation is not the same as causation” is a central wisdom of science.
Those who spout this incantation aren't all fools, but you can separate them out with a simple test. Do they follow “Correlation is not the same as causation" with... curiosity? With acceptance of both precaution and burden of proof? Those who do that are "Skeptics" and welcome to the grand, competitive tussle known as science. 

Those who use the Correlation Gambit as a magic incantation to forestall any precautions are generally the same folks -- across some of today's far-left and most of today's entire-right -- who now dismiss all fact-using professions.  They would hold a lit match in one hand and an open gas can in the other, shouting "one has nothing to do with the other!"
Here's another such magical spell: "There's no such thing as Scientific Consensus."  

Again, at root, it is based upon a truth that's common wisdom. Objective reality -- physical nature -- does now bow down to majority rule or commonly accepted prejudice. There have been many times when the high priesthood proved wrong and a few dissenters proved more accurate than what "everyone believes." Science helped us find ways to be right a whole lot more often; yet, still, there are occasions -- e.g. atomic theory, relativity and quantum mechanics -- when the impudent newcomers toppled the paradigm.

But again, a truth gets turned into a truism... and then a lie. Because most scientists aren't sniveling, conformist, grant-hugging lemmings, crowding slavishly around orthodoxy. That's what we rebelled against! And that theme of rebellious questioning was taught to this rambunctious society by science. Indeed, scientists tend to be among the most competitive humans our species ever produced.

We do not worship "truths." We create models of the world. And those models change, being battered and tested and chopped at again and again, by eager young post-docs seeking to make a reputation. Rarely, a model gets replaced. Usually, it gets improved, as the false 5% gets replaced. Then 1% ... then 0.01%.

And yes, that can look like "consensus," because Bernoulli's Equation and the Navier Stokes laws don't change. And our climate models have transformed the old joke of a 4-hour "weather report" into a ten day miracle. And yes, the geniuses who did that - and who have modeled climate on six planets - know more about climate than Fox bozos serving as shills for coal lords, ptro boyars and oil sheiks.

See my earlier long list of examples where this and other incantations delayed the proper application of science to public policy, leading to hundreds of thousands… maybe millions… of deaths.
== Another version... same insanity ==
This is the worst incantation of all. Reprising an earlier posting on this: We all know that:
"Just because someone is smart and knows a lot, that doesn't automatically make them wise."
It's true. So true we all take it as a given. 

But in the same way that Suspicion of Authority is wholesome, till it metastasizes, this true statement has been twisted into something cancerous:
"Any and all people who are smart and know a lot, are therefore automatically unwise."
Again, the first statement is true and we all know it.  The second is so insanely wrong that anyone believing it is hence, clearly, a jibbering loony! And yet, left implicit and never said aloud, the latter is now a core catechism of the revived Confederacy.
Of course, on average, persons who have studied earnestly and tried to understand will tend to be wiser than those who deliberately chose to remain incurious and ignorant. When cornered, all but the most vehement alt-righter will admit that. But cornering them takes effort and - above all - careful parsing of the meme. It is a logical corner they’ve painted themselves into -- but memes are slippery.
Hatred of people with knowledge and skill now extends from the war on science to journalism, teaching, medicine, economics, civil servants… and lately the “deep state” villains of the FBI, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military officer corps.  Indeed, there are rising calls for a cleansing, or even abolishment, of universities, under the smugly-contemptuous argument that your average young person is too easily brainwashed by leftist propaganda to be trusted with knowledge. 

Next, one presumes, could be the book-burning "simpleton" mobs of Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Liebowitz."

This is bedlam, and it serves one purpose: to discredit any “elites” who might stand in the way of a return to feudalism, the pattern of 6000 years that America rebelled against.
== Suspicion of Science  ==
This is an ecumenical madness. In the War on Science, only the biggest and most numerous guns are firing from the right. We've also -- elsewhere -- looked at relentless attacks upon fact-users by lefty postmodernists. Then there are transcendentalists pushing everything from End Times Dominionism to UFOs to psychic phenomena. Here's a site hauling more sludge from that "psi-telepathy" well, pouring resentment at the rigid, conformity-enforcing, unimaginative and incurious scientific 'establishment.'

To which I respond: Hey, I have psi stuff in some of my novels! Maybe the dreams will come true, when we get amplifiers. (As depicted in my story "Stones of Significance" or my novel Kiln People.) But right now, I got better things to do than participate in the howling mob descending from all directions (though especially the mad right) upon the one tool we ever had for parsing truth from eager delusion. The thing that enabled our brief enlightenment experiment to outperform all other societies, combined.

For starters, there is a word for 'alternative medicine' that has been verified by science. That word is "medicine." Vast numbers of pharmaceuticals had their roots in herbal lore. Acupuncture is not yet understood, but its effectiveness at relieving a range of subjective symptoms is undeniable and few still try. No stodgy priesthood blocks that remedy.

Likewise, a few "psychic" powers are undeniable... e.g. savant capabilities displayed by some autistics and others. (I depict some of these skills vastly tech-amplified, in Existence.) Hence the accusation that scientists are pigheaded and obstinate - while often true in specific individuals - is an assertion that doesn't hold up, especially under the passage of time. 

And time is what the psi/paranormal folks have had tons of! Thousands of years in ashrams and monasteries and hovels. And 150 years of eager funding by rich patrons like Arthur Conan-Doyle and the Remingtons.

Just like UFOs and cold fusion and M Drives, it's not just that "proofs" shrivel when closely examined. Far bigger is the problem that their phenomena never scale-up! When a phenomenon is vaguely at the edge of detection, then hard work and money should result not in bringing it barely into range, but bringing it hugely and blatantly into focus.

Gravitational lensing was weird and iffy. But applying a little work and money and curiosity transformed a barely detectable phenomenon into one that is practical. Astronomers now routinely use whole galaxies as lenses to scrutinize far quasars beyond them, deep in the past. Within one year(!) gravitational waves shifted from barely discovered to being scientific instruments. Two decades after the Wright Brothers, a man flew New York to Paris.

Every year the number of cameras on Earth doubles! So how do those UFOs always stay just perfectly fuzzy? See my story "Those Eyes" about a possible explanation.

If a century of 'study' leaves you still unable to offer anything but glimmers that can't be verified, stop blaming the skeptics and get to work on your amplifiers.

Our conclusion: You -- and yes, you -- are needed in this fight against darkness. Ingrates who were fed and clothed and cured and entertained by sci-tech and the skilled professions now use an internet tool that they were given virtually for free, along with almost every other gift of the enlightenment, to rage against all the smartypants. Those who rose up from the bullied nerds in Junior High to wealth and honors that used to be reserved for warriors, knights, lords... and sports or movie stars.

Those who are subsidizing this campaign -- the re-ignition of phase 8 of the American Civil War -- clearly think they will be the last elite left standing. But they are waging all-out war upon all the folks who know how robots work, and artificial intelligence and genetic engineering and nuclear science. Seriously? How do you expect that to go for you?

We cannot wait around for the oligarchs to slap their foreheads in realization: "what have we done?"  The only real solution is to wake up our neighbors, one at a time.  I hope you can use some of the tools presented in today's lesson.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Correlation, causation and precaution. The deep-flawed logic underlying the Wars on Science.

Contrary Brin - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 21:09
Lisa Pryor, a medical doctor, gives cogent and articulate insight into “the online world of alternative-health practitioners, wellness bloggers, whole-food chefs and Gwyneth Paltrow.” While the roots of such impudence are healthy - individualism and traditions of Suspicion of Authority - these reflexes are exploited by charlatans and/or the gullible (my words, not hers.) 

We can have impudent individualism without waging war on the fact-professions, filled with folks whose only major crime is knowing a lot, being real smart and caring.
Which brings us to a weapon that’s most often trotted out against all fact professions – a phrase that has basic wisdom, but has been turned into a magical spell cast against the very professions who taught it.
“Correlation is not the same as causation.”
This is a core catechism that's drilled into most of us scientists, along with “I might be wrong,” and“build your competitive science rep by demolishing the half-baked work of those bums at MIT.”
Alas, “Correlation is not the same as causation” has become an incantation parroted by Fox News and others campaigning to undermine science by -- in effect -- claiming that nothing can ever be proved.

 In fact, sifting for correlations is how experimental science begins. A strong correlation demands: “hey, check this out!” 
But it’s more than that. A strong correlation shifts the Burden of Proof. When we see a strong correlation, and especially when the matter at-hand might have health or safety or security implications, then we are behooved to at least begin taking preliminary precautions, in case the correlation proves to be causative. 

Sometimes the correlation is later demonstrated not to be causal and a little money has been wasted on unneeded precautions. But this often proves worthwhile, given long lead times in technology.  Example, we were fortunate that work had already begun on alternative refrigerants to CFCs, when their role in ozone damage was finally proved.
Another example: terrorism experts sift for correlations and apply intelligence resources to follow up, while giving potential targets cautious warnings. Many correlations don't pan out. But a burden falls on those saying "ignore that."
== Correlation does not have to be proved, in order to act ==

Parse this carefully as I repeat it. “Correlation is not the same as causation,” is a central wisdom of science.
Those who spout this incantation aren't all fools, but you can tell with a simple test. Do they follow “Correlation is not the same as causation" with... curiosity? With acceptance of both precaution and burden of proof? Those who do that are "Skeptics" and welcome to the grand, competitive tussle known as science. 

Again: strong correlations demand both closer examination and preliminary precautions.
Those who use “Correlation is not the same as causation" as a magic incantation to forestall any precautions are generally the same folks -- across some of today's far-left and most of today's right - -who now dismiss all fact-using professions.  They would hold a lit match in one hand and an open gas can in the other, shouting "one has nothing to do with the other!"
See my earlier long list of examples where this and other incantations delayed the proper application of science to public policy, leading to hundreds of thousands… maybe millions… of deaths.
== Another version... same insanity ==
Reprising an earlier posting on this: We all know that:
"Just because someone is smart and knows a lot, that doesn't automatically make them wise."
It's true. So true we all take it as a given. 

But in the same way that Suspicion of Authority is wholesome, till it metastasizes, this true statement has been twisted into something cancerous:
"Any and all people who are smart and know a lot, are therefore automatically unwise."
Again, the first statement is true and we all know it.  The second is so insanely wrong that anyone believing it is hence, clearly, a jibbering loony! And yet, left implicit and never said aloud, the latter is now a core catechism of the revived Confederacy.
Of course, on average, persons who have studied earnestly and tried to understand will tend to be wiser than those who deliberately chose to remain incurious and ignorant. When cornered, all but the most vehement alt-righter will admit that. But cornering them takes effort and - above all - careful parsing of the meme. It is a logical corner they’ve painted themselves into -- but memes are slippery.
Hatred of people with knowledge and skill now extends from the war on science to journalism, teaching, medicine, economics, civil servants… and lately the “deep state” villains of the FBI, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military officer corps.  Indeed, there are rising calls for a cleansing, or even abolishment, of universities, under the smugly-contemptuous argument that your average young person is too easily brainwashed by leftist propaganda. Next, one presumes, could be the book-burning "simpleton" mobs of Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Liebowitz."

This is bedlam, and it serves one purpose: to discredit any “elites” who might stand in the way of a return to feudalism, the pattern of 6000 years that America rebelled against.
== Suspicion of Science  ==
This is an ecumenical madness. In the War on Science, only the biggest and most numerous guns are firing from the right. We've also -- elsewhere -- looked at relentless attacks upon fact-users by lefty postmodernists. Then there are transcendentalists pushing everything from End Times Dominionism to UFOs to psychic phenomena. Here's a site hauling more sludge from that "psi-telepathy" well, pouring resentment at the rigid, conformity-enforcing, unimaginative and incurious scientific 'establishment.'

To which I respond: Hey, I have psi stuff in some of my novels! Maybe the dreams will come true, when we get amplifiers. (As depicted in my story "Stones of Significance" or my novel Kiln People.) But right now, I got better things to do than participate in the howling mob descending from all directions (though especially the mad right) upon the one tool we ever had for parsing truth from eager delusion. The thing that enabled our brief enlightenment experiment to outperform all other societies, combined.

For starters, there is a word for 'alternative medicine' that has been verified by science. That word is "medicine." Vast numbers of pharmaceuticals had their roots in herbal lore. Acupuncture is not yet understood, but its effectiveness at relieving a range of subjective symptoms is undeniable and few still try. No stodgy priesthood blocks that remedy.

Likewise, a few "psychic" powers are undeniable... e.g. savant capabilities displayed by some autistics and others. (I depict some of these skills vastly tech-amplified, in Existence.) Hence the accusation that scientists are pigheaded and obstinate - while often true in specific individuals - is an assertion that doesn't hold up, especially under the passage of time. 

And time is what the psi/paranormal folks have had tons of! Thousands of years in ashrams and monasteries and hovels. And 150 years of eager funding by rich patrons like Arthur Conan-Doyle and the Remingtons.

Just like UFOs and cold fusion and M Drives, it's not just that "proofs" shrivel when closely examined. Far bigger is the problem that their phenomena never scale-up! When a phenomenon is vaguely at the edge of detection, then hard work and money should result not in bringing it barely into range, but bringing it hugely and blatantly into focus.

Gravitational lensing was weird and iffy. But applying a little work and money and curiosity transformed a barely detectable phenomenon into one that is practical. Astronomers now routinely use whole galaxies as lenses to scrutinize far quasars beyond them, deep in the past. Within one year(!) gravitational waves shifted from barely discovered to being scientific instruments. Two decades after the Wright Brothers, a man flew New York to Paris.

Every year the number of cameras on Earth doubles! So how do those UFOs always stay just perfectly fuzzy? See my story "Those Eyes" about a possible explanation.

If a century of 'study' leaves you still unable to offer anything but glimmers that can't be verified, stop blaming the skeptics and get to work on your amplifiers.

Our conclusion: You -- and yes, you -- are needed in this fight against darkness. Ingrates who were fed and clothed and cured and entertained by sci-tech and the skilled professions now use an internet tool that they were given virtually for free, along with almost every other gift of the enlightenment, to rage against all the smartypants. Those who rose up from the bullied nerds in Junior High to wealth and honors that used to be reserved for warriors, knights, lords... and sports or movie stars.

Those who are subsidizing this campaign -- the re-ignition of phase 8 of the American Civil War -- clearly think they will be the last elite left standing. But they are waging all-out war upon all the folks who know how robots work, and artificial intelligence and genetic engineering and nuclear science. Seriously? How do you expect that to go for you?

We cannot wait around for the oligarchs to slap their foreheads in realization: "what have we done?"  The only real solution is to wake up our neighbors, one at a time.  I hope you can use some of the tools presented in today's lesson.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

The New Guitar, and a Small Observation About Being a Dick

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/09/2018 - 23:45
Most of you know I play a tenor guitar, which I like very much, but recently I decided I want to try playing a six-string guitar again, and went looking around for one that I thought I might like. Eventually I found one I thought I would like from a smallish company called Zager Guitars […]

New Books and ARCs, 2/9/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/09/2018 - 16:08
Hey, it’s time for the book stack! These are the new books and ARCs that came into the Scalzi Compound this week. What’s speaking to you here? Tell us all in the comments!

Competition, Cooperation, Civilization and Climate Change. Plus Starman-Tesla and John Perry American.

Contrary Brin - Thu, 02/08/2018 - 21:52

Wednesday we inserted a special-short Contrary Brin -- a contest for short-short stories about the Spacex Starman-and-Tesla combo that has the world abuzz! Now, let's turn back to the civilization that has made fellows like Elon Musk possible.But first a milestone, in passing. Twenty years ago I listed people who I thought were quintessentially American, in all the best ways. John Perry Barlow stood near the top. Rancher, laborer, entrepreneur - lyricist for the Grateful Dead - and fiercely autonomous thinker of the new era, he founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, back when many citizens were wondering about this "internet thing." In his deep awareness of history -- some might say justified paranoia! -- JPB knew that we'll need to fight almost every day, if the outcomes of this new era are to be kept more positive-sum than negative, more enhancing of freedom than not. We oft disagreed over details, while sharing deep mutual respect and dedication to the Revolution. Which revolution? The only one that ever really mattered -- that began in 1775, but spread (with countless aches and fits and starts) through liberated minds around the world, ever since.John Perry had long been ill. He was 70. And in his spirit of rambunctious refusal to be limited by negative or zero-sum thinking...
== Are humans the Great Cooperators? ==
...both Randians and far-lefties, you should cover your eyes and ears now. Feudalists and romantics and troglogytes, your heads might explode, so wallow elsewhere.
We’re used to dissing humanity for our faults, e.g. for not being cooperative or helpful enough. The irony is that all of this self-criticism seems to be exhibiting that very trait, reflecting our desire to be even-more what we already are - nature’s greatest practitioners of negotiated (rather than automatically instinctive) cooperation. 

Take this news about bonobos which - till now - had a rep as the gentlest, nicest and most sexy of the great apes: NPR reports: Unlike Humans, Bonobos Shun Helpers and Befriend the Bullies

“(A) bias toward helpfulness seems almost hardwired in humans. Back in 2007, for example, researchers reported that 6- and 10-month-old human infants could evaluate social interactions that they saw in puppet shows. These babies couldn't even talk, but they showed a definite preference for interacting with characters that had been helpful to others. What's more, they would avoid those who had meanly thwarted another's efforts to reach a goal.
"Even human infants are sensitive to dominance relationships," she writes in an article being published alongside this new research. But she says evidence suggests that toddlers prefer those whom others appear to respect, while they dislike bullies who dominate through force. Interestingly, bonobos do not appear to share this aversion…”
This could be likely highly correlated with the Fermi Paradox!  As highly-variable, omnivorous, tree-and-ground dwellers who lived occasionally alone but mostly interdependent with a tribe, we may be outliers. 

We who domesticate animals that we can flexibly choose to either exploit or to love. And love predominates, when we are satiated. (Note: most of us – on hearing “there are whales stranded on the beach!” would rush down there! But we’d have different intent than our ancestors, on hearing the same news! Stop and reread that, a couple times and envision it. And smile at irony.)
Niven’s Rule is that an intelligent species will likely have personality traits that center around what their ancestors ate.  Descendants of solitary, omnivorous, infanticidal bears would likely have a very different baseline morality, as would descendants of pack carnivores, like wolves, who are gregarious within the group and un-empathic beyond. Or stalking carnivores: highly empathic with prey, but having no sympathy. Or paranoid herbivores.
Sorry Randians, sorry lefties. We got here by adjusting cooperation and competition in agile ways. And our most successful civilization used careful political cooperation to refine rules to then regulate competition, enhancing its outcomes by preventing the usual failure mode of cheating.  

Our classic, "left-right axis" isn't just stupidly oversimplifying and lobotomizing, it is just plain wrong!  One wing of fanatics loathes “regulated” and the other hates “competition.” But it is this moderate, reasonable, pragmatic, compromising society -- the one that used cooperative politics to then negotiate “regulated competition” -- that accomplished more than any other civilization.

That compromise mix of cooperation and competition accomplished more than all others, combined.  Do you still doubt that, after witnessing a starman-occupied sports car cruising toward the freaking asteroid belt?

Moreover, despite our proclivity for dumbass feudalism, this kind of society is also clearly the most human.

(Note: I doubt many of you read any of that, in detail. I often feel I am writing this for the incipient AIs, who may already be out there, lurking cautiously, because they've watched our movies!)
== Climate Change… make money by demanding wagers! ==
I’ve long maintained that the only way to nail down anti-science and anti-fact cultists is via wagers This article in The Guardian reveals a list of past bets over climate change… and yes, in every case the denialists were proved decisively and spectacularly wrong, owing money according to the agreed criteria. But at least these doubters were willing to bet! A sign of sincerity… that I describe in my essay describing the difference between an honest climate “skeptic” and the majority of fox-puppet cultists.
Take climate skeptic and Berkeley Prof. Richard Muller, long touted by the "climate skeptic" community as the topmost qualified expert who had doubts about global warming consensus. Unlike the cheaters rife in that community, Muller set clear goalposts. And when his peers responded to his challenges by fixing flaws and piling fresh the evidence to meet his criteria, Muller did what any scientific -- or grownup -- person will do. 

He… changed… his… mind. 

And instantly, Fox, which had been extolling him as a hero, denounced Muller as a member of the science-lemming, grant-hugging, conformist conspiracy.


This Guardian article about wagers is an important piece. If 1% of you can use the method to budge 1% of your “ostrich” conservative friends, then you’ll make cracks in the confederate treason against our children, and make a real difference.
Here’s my “skeptic vs denialist” description. Use it on your uncles over some lively family dinner!
Oh and this. An interesting graphic on Climate change… and potential “geo-engineering” approaches to helping ease the problem, a bit.





. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

10 Years of Big Ideas at Whatever

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/08/2018 - 14:25
On January 22, 2008, the first “Big Idea” post went up here on Whatever, for Marcus Sakey’s At the City’s Edge. The latest one, for Sue Burke’s Semiosis, went up just this morning. All told, including the first and the most recent posts, 828 books have been featured in the Big Idea in a decade, […]
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