Archive for May, 2017

Mythical Myths #27 – The Galileo Trial

Monday, May 29th, 2017

In 3quarksdaily: The Galileo Trial: Faux News from the 17th Century, Leanne Ogasawara refers to several misconceptions about Galileo but her main point is suspect. She refers to a number of resources on the issue, some of which I have not yet read, but the most interesting to me is the reaction of (ex)Vatican Observatory Director George Coyne to his experience on the church’s Galileo Commission in the 1980s. Coyne was clearly frustrated by the abuse of process by which the Galileo Commission (of which he was a member) was purported to have identified the failings of the Church (and esp of the popes of the time) as a “myth”, so unless some of the other links convince me otherwise I will have to classify Ogasawara’s “Faux News” as yet another Mythical Myth.

Many Paths to Equity

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Prompted by the impact of increased labour costs on American Airlines’ stock valuation, Matt Breunig writes in Jacobin (coming to my attention via 3QD):

If Naidu and others are right, Piketty’s theory of how wealth and income inequality develop may be exactly backwards. And his prescriptions for reversing skyrocketing inequality may suffer accordingly.


But I don’t see any “getting it backwards” here. Piketty’s observation is just that when, for whatever reason, the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of the economy, ownership will concentrate in fewer and fewer long term holders of capital. Perhaps the reverse is also true – ie that preventing the concentration of capital ownership brings down the rate of return, but none of the critics seem to be making this claim. The difference is rather about how to prevent the concentration – by taxation and/or redistribution of assets or by raising the cost of labour (which then brings down the rate of return and/or causes continued demand for a high rate of return to lower the face value of the assets). But that is a false dichotomy. We can do both!

Mythical Myths #74 – Tacoma Narrows Resonance

Friday, May 26th, 2017

According to a story by astrophysicist Ethan Siegel in this week’s Forbes magazine: Science Busts The Biggest Myth Ever About Why Bridges Collapse . Wow! That headline reads as if “science” has just made a new myth-busting discovery and the article tells us that the previous understanding of what happened was based on the kind of resonance by which a singer can break a wineglass and is all wrong. But the “myth” is pretty much itself a myth here as the Federal Works Admin report way back in 1940 stated that “It is very improbable that the resonance with alternating vortices plays an important role in the oscillations of suspension bridges. First, it was found that there is no sharp correlation between wind velocity and oscillation frequency such as is required in case of resonance with vortices whose frequency depends on the wind velocity.” And with regard to whether or not the actual nonlinear effect should be described as a resonance I agree with the comments by Gregg Collins two years ago and Jeff Hester (also an astrophysicist by the way) one year ago in response to munutephysics’ video on this from 2011. Both of these commenters point out that despite not being a case of simple response to a periodic applied force “it is far ~more~ incorrect to say it was not a resonance at all”. What really happened is that the bridge had an inadequately damped torsional vibration mode which was excited not by a periodic change in the environment but by a nonlinear interaction with steady wind which pushed harder on the twist when the twist itself was greater (much as a child on a swing pumps herself up by reacting to her position rather than moving at a predetermined frequency).

Misrepresentation of Genetic Science?

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Razib Khan at Gene Expression: The misrepresentation of genetic science in the Vox piece on race and IQ  objects to this Vox piece about Charles Murray.

I have a number of concerns about the Vox piece but curiously the main claim that Razib objects to is not one of them. I am not close enough to the field to know whether or not it is *now* true that “no self-respecting statistical geneticist would undertake a study based *only* on self-identified racial category as a proxy for genetic ancestry measured from DNA”, but what Razib presents is not a counterexample. Rather it is a reference and quotes from Neil Risch in the early 2000’s which looked (to me) more like an analysis of how well racial/ethnic self-categorization *might* be (or might have been) used as a proxy for genetic structure [based on microsatellite markers] (back when the cost of the latter was prohibitive) rather than an actual use case. And, as Razib himself admits, “This isn’t 2005”.  So, for what little it’s worth, I do find it hard to imagine how a “statistical geneticist” (as opposed to a sociologist for example) might need to use only self-identification of subjects rather than actual DNA analysis as input into a study at this time.

Back in the 1970’s (20 years *before* ‘The Bell Curve’), I joined demonstrations against seminar speakers promoting the work of Shockley and Herrnstein because they treated as gospel (and advocated social policy supposedly based on) the conclusions of twin studies whose data had substantial unexplained patterns of what looked like fraudulent manipulation.

I did not necessarily believe that the conclusions were false though, and had some academic interest in whether or not they might be – but felt that that investigation would be premature without some prior thought about how to deal with the impact of whatever turned out to be the case. My general stance in favour of freedom to investigate does accept limits based on the possibility of knowledge causing social harm  (so I don’t really want to know whether or not some “races” are intellectually inferior to others) – as well as on some rights of personal privacy (so that I also hold in check any curiosity I may have about my neighbours’ sex lives for example).

Ever since then I have been disappointed by the left’s strategy of complete denial rather than addressing the hypothetical question of how best to deal with the possibility of eventually being faced with an “inconvenient truth”.

What would be the best social policies for dealing with a situation in which some readily observable characteristic turned out to be correlated with something real and valuable but less easily measurable? (Say if people with red hair had a measurably higher average rate of dishonesty for example)