Archive for July, 2012

Is Algebra Necessary?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Algebra, as remembered by many,  seems to be  nothing more than a set of meaningless formal tasks, and if that memory is accurate, then indeed it has no right to be included as a requirement of everyone’s basic education. [ Some who see it that way try to justify the subject  as an exercise in mental discipline, but that argument is as vacuous as it was when applied to teaching Latin grammar (without the literature) in centuries recently past. So if algebra is really as people claim to remember it then it certainly is not “necessary”.] But such memories are either false, or are evidence of incompetent teaching.  And they are not by any means a justification for abandoning the subject as a universal requirement.


Good News on Canadian Copyright Law

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Michael Geist’s analysis of recent  Supreme Court decisions is encouraging and provides a nice counterpoint to the nasty business our Harper gov’t did to us on the digital lock rules.

Everything Unlikely => Nothing Surprising?

Friday, July 20th, 2012

William M. Briggs  misses the main point when he claims that the recent sequence of high temperature months is no cause for alarm (on the grounds that a sequence of thirteen high months is no less improbable than any other particular sequence).

SteveBrooklineMA’s sarcastic comment (about refusing to adjust one’s aim in the face of consistently hitting too high) is actually right on target.  Given a sequence of consistently high results it would make sense to consider the possibility that there *might* be a systematic effect happening (and especially so when there is a good theoretical reason to expect that there really is such an effect!).

The difference from Briggs’  blade of grass story is in the fact that, although all blades are equally unlikely, if his golf ball hit the one blade that *I* had picked out *in advance* then I would be very surprised and suspect a trick in a way that I would not  if everyone in the world had chosen their own favourite and some other person’s favourite got hit.

Similarly, while I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that someone somewhere in the world threw 13 Heads in a row with a fair coin yesterday, I would have good reason to be very suspicious of a coin which gave *me* that result in the first time I tried it.

In the same way, the particular unlikely sequence of thirteen high temperature months in a row is different from other equally unlikely but less interesting sequences because none of the others correspond to a simple hypothesis that could have been (and was!) made in advance, and it is as foolish to ignore this as to deny the possibility that a sequence of thirteen high shots at a target is consistent with the simple plausible hypothesis that I am pulling the barrel up as I shoot. (more…)

Lovelock was Alarmist!

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Apparently he no longer believes that “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.” But who with more than half a brain ever did believe the second half of that? (The first half of course is obviously true unless some medical miracle gives us all 100+ year lifespans.)

It infuriates me that the media always anoint those with the most extreme and outlandish views as the “leading” proponents of any movement. The point seems to be just so that when they eventually are seen to be ridiculous or back off from their position then others can chime in with “I told you so” and “see! The whole thing was ridiculous”.