Archive for November, 2014

3quarksdaily: Who knows What

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

3quarksdaily links today to a two year old article by Massimo Pigliucci objecting to a 1998 book by E.O.Wilson.

But anyone who could say “Epistemic reductionism is obviously false”, at least on the basis of only the feeble grounds provided by Pigliucci, apparently doesn’t understand what such reductionism should reasonably be expected to claim.

The simplest model that shows his error is perhaps the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics wherein our inability to keep track of all the 10^26 odd microvariables (representing positions and momenta of all the particles in a sample of material) is overcome by identifying suitable combinations of them as macrovariables (such as volume, temperature, pressure etc) with the rules or axioms of the macrotheory being “explained” as theorems of the microtheory. We don’t yet have a satisfactory quantum theory of gravity but there is no known logical obstruction to finding one, and if we do then one of the constraints on it will be that its classical limit *does* provide a “quantum theory of planets”.

UW Lies about Peer Review Study

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Note: This rant is more about the evils of headline writers and professional C&M types than about the substance of the proposed study (which I think is very interesting):

The University of Washington is rightly proud of the fact that UW statistician, philosopher win prize for detecting bias in peer review. Except that the headline is a lie! The award is for proposing a method for detecting a certain kind of bias if it exists. The researchers quite reasonably guess that it might, and they suggest that it may explain the fact (which really was observed in a different study) that blacks are underfunded compared to whites of the same “educational background, country of origin, training, previous research awards, publication record, and employer characteristics”. And the study they propose (and which will be funded by the award) may well detect it. But it has NOT been “detected” yet.

P.S. I actually came to this via a link in a comment on a blog post in a series by Susanna Siegel in which an earlier post had referred to a study by the psychologists Uhlmann and Cohen, where they were investigating the role of gender stereotypes in hiring decisions and in which a very similar kind of bias to that proposed by the UW team was observed in a mock hiring experiment.

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

The answer provided by a professional philosopher (at to the question “If we have no free will, then is the entire legal system redundant since no one can be held accountable for anything since no one has control over their own actions?” would be shocking if my expectations were not already so low.


On Pride

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

Ophelia Benson is often proudly childish in giving vent to her emotions, but rarely falls into the kind of childish pride with which Peter Boghossian asserts the “adult” nature of his comments.

I don’t know if Tim Cook really meant to claim that he is proud of his sexual orientation per se rather than of his ability to thrive in a world where even to survive is often challenging for gays, but regardless of whether or not he meant his words to be taken literally, it is meanly small-minded to question that pride by way of a sarcastic “tweet” or “status” comment.

Personally, I walk in the Gay Pride Parade more to support the latter interpretation (so well expressed by Greta Christina and many others who responded to Boghossian’s Facebook post), but even if Tim either misspoke or feels a pride that I could not share, I am sure he deserves a more respectful response than was shown by Boghossian.

I do think, though, there is a sense in which some expressions of “gay pride” may be unfortunate – either by being misleading as to the intent, or by actually claiming a sense of superiority that just perpetuates the power of prejudice by seeking to reverse it rather than to end it. And there may be a context in which such concerns can be usefully addressed. (more…)