Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wikipedia, rule fetishism and megalomania!

Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee is currently deciding how to deal with the some editors at the Sexology pages. It is going to be a nice disaster, but that is a topic for another time. No, this evening, one of the member of the ArbCom wrote this gem in response to the editor they are going to kick of the sexology pages:
There is nothing stopping you (or academics active in the field who disagree with how this case went or how the articles look) to publish (somewhere suitable) a critique of the current state of the articles and what they should look like.
Just wondering, would this blog be good enough? Nah, it does not fit WP:RS (Identification of 'reliable' sources.....). Just let it sink in what he (she?) writes.....
Did you catch it? Yes, good. No, okay, I explain.

An active member of the ArbCom just suggested that Wikipedia is so important that it is worth to write an article about what the hell is wrong with some articles, and get it published in a reputable place that can pass WP:RS, after which the editors of Wikipedia can finally include it. Really, a bit of an ego problem? Leave the bit out, replace it with huge. Wikipedia is supposed to reflect the consensus in the field. The consensus is that hebephilia is bogus. Not a mental disorder.

Anyway, I digress.... What the ArbCom member is saying is that the rule fetishism at Wikipedia trumps the already established consensus on this topic outside of Wikipedia, and that if you feel that the article needs to reflect that consensus better, you have to write an article outside of Wikipedia that can pass the rules of Wikipedia so that in the end, the article can reflect the already established consensus on this topic. I think this is a sign of megalomania!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Soul, Science and Abortion: Some thoughts

Recently, I had an idiot try to make the 'scientific' argument that a fertilized egg should have the same rights as a human being. I think the person was just trying to wrap his ideological/religious bullshit in a wrapper of prestige and in that way try to convince people to ban abortions in all cases. Anyway, I wrote a elaborate response, and I reproduce that here.

To equate a fertilized egg to a human being is the same as equating a death corps to a human being. They have exactly the same genetic material. So, what is the key difference between a living person and a death person? A theist would say a soul, but we were trying to find a scientific argument to equate a fertilized egg with a human. So, we are limited to substance monism to explain the mind. Three versions exist: behaviorism, functionalism, and mind-brain identity theory. Behaviorism attempts to explain mental states in terms of behavior. Functionalism holds that mental states are defined by their functional role, by the effect that they have on us. Mind-brain identity theory holds that the mind and the brain are one and the same thing, and that the mind arises from the interaction of nerve cells in the brain. Once enough interactions between the nerve cells stop, you are dead.
A kidney taken out of a body for transplant does not have a life on its own, nor is the soul of the donor split and partially merged with the recipient. So, where is the soul/mind located? That location would be the brain. And as I indicated above, once enough nerve cells stop contributing, you are dead. The flip side of this argument is that you cannot have a mind until you have enough interacting nerve cells in the brain to generate a mind. For nerve cells to be able to interact, they have to form synapses. Synaptogenesis happens relative late during development, somewhere after week 20. This implies that scientifically speaking, you do not have a soul/mind before that happens, because the required nerve interactions are absent.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Keith Weiner: Big mouth spinless living in lala land

Keith Weiner is the US president of the Gold Standard Institute. He is an objectivist in the mold of Ayn Rand, and like most of the people of the Gold Standard Institute, he likes the Austrian School of Economics, a fringe group within the economic research field.

Kieth has a facebook page. You can subscribe to it, but my interactions with him showed that he has no interest in pursuing the truth, the reason he has that page is to have an echo chamber for his rants against Obama and the current administration. Many dutifully oblige and sprout their own ignorant rants against him. So, why did I come to that conclusion. It started with a post about how the economy was not recovering. I saw a mutual friend post something, and I decided to read the tread. I think the economy is recovering as we are not loosing 700,000 jobs a month, but instead are adding modest number of jobs each month. Is the number of jobs added enough, no, but it is an improvement.

The reply that I got from him was that there are still many people added to the food stamp program. So I checked. It is true, but here again, the number of people added to the food-stamp program was seriously reduced.

So, what we see is that in 2009,l about 550,000 people a month were added to the food-stamp roles, while now, that is less than 50,000, and the total number has been hovering between 46 and 47 million since last 2011.

So, now that we have the back ground, what happened when I pointed this out to our Gold Standard Institute president for the USA. Sounds impressive, and he just had tried to persuade me that he was obviously right with a statement about me having a PhD. he then continued with:

That was the last graph I shows above. Really? So, I responded:

 the 2011 and 2012 data are under the more, but you get the picture that I explained the data oif the graph that you can see above.

Kieth responded with:

Yes, I have a PhD in biology, and statistics is one of those things I am actually REALLY good with. So, I know the difference of total number and rate changes. Remember, we were having a discussion on his claim that the economy was not yet improving, and that is basically a discussion about rate changes, not absolutes. We were not having a discussion whether the economy was already good enough. So, I posted the following response (I snapped the screenshot in the middle of him deleting the comment, see below):

This made me think, are the rates really changing, because I had eyeballed the previous graph, but what is the variation realtive to the total? This graph shows that there is pretty much no change lately:
This data shows the same thing as the link to the website I gave above, we have some fluctuations going on but the total number is pretty much stable between 46 and 47 million. So, I posted a follow up response:

50,000 on 46,000,000 is about a 0.1% change. So, in absolute sense, yes, people are till added. But that was not the point, the point was whether or not the economy was improving. And the 10 fold reduction in number of people added is definitively a sign that the economy is recovering.

Kieth didn't like this. he had already said several times that I should leave because he though I had an ax to grind and shit like that, while in reality, I was following where the data was leading me.

So, next thing what happens is that he start deleting the last two responses, resulting in me posting a question about it (I include the previous post of him so you can see he deleted the posts in between):
The next thing I know is that he blocks me:

So, what do we have here. I think we have a guy with a big ego (he claims he has already a PhD at the Gold Standard Institute Website ("He is an Objectivist who has earned his PhD New Austrian School of Economics, with a focus on monetary science."), but at his own blog he writes that the professor has not yet signed off on it:

 I have read the thesis, or at least the abstract and introduction. It reads like a love letter to Ayn Rand. Over the years, I have seen a few PhD theses, including ones outside my field, and this one does not have the substance of a rigorous work, but instead read more like a opinion piece of his personal thoughts. I expect that for term papers discussing things, not of a thesis. My feeling was confirmed when I saw the very very short reference list, in which many of the Ayn Rand works took up considerable space. But enough about the lack of scientific rigor in the PhD, I think that point is clear.

So, what we have here is a guy with a big ego, who likes echo chambers, and stifles people who do not walk the party line. This same guy has the impressive title of "President of the Institute - USA" (screenshot in case it is deleted):

Yes, despite his 'prestigious' position, he cannot handle that he was proven wrong in a claim. I think that is pathetic, and quite frankly, I think the Gold Standard Institute has invited a problem, not an asset into their organization. I think the booting of Sandeep Jaitly is just more of the same.

And oh, never ask Keith whether we should make bankruptcies impossible for people with medical debts that saved their lives. Because he has enough morals to see you do have to help someone who ends up in the ER with a life-threatening emergency, but he does not want to pay for it with tax dollars. So, he wants to get the money from the patient, no matter what. I never came to asking him how to pluck a naked chicken, or how to get money from someone who did not survive the ER and racked up loads of cost anyway. Maybe he wants to make debt inheritable and pluck the offspring. I will never know, but I do know that I think that he is spineless guy with a big ego who cannot function outside his own echo chambers. I wish him good luck with living in lala land where he can be the supreme dictator. In the meanwhile, I am going to give a damn about the people around me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

$850,000 study proves that sexual orientation does not change the negative effect of instable home situations

Earlier today, I wrote about how Mark Regnerus has decided to trash his academic career in order to bash some gays. The study was paid for by two right wing outlets known for their anti-gay stance, so it is not surprising that the study concludes what the master preaches. The Witherspoon Institute gave two grants, one of $55,000 and a second of $695,000, while the closely linked Bradley Foundation paid $90,000. Combined with his salary from the university, we have a study of about one million dollars. Most highly expensive high tech ground breaking medical studies do not get that much money......

So, what did the Witherspoon Institute and Bradley Foundation get for all that money? They got a piece of crap, that if anything, only showed a single thing, and that is that kids in unstable situation do less good than in more stable situations. That is not new, the only thing that is new is that we now know that if there is some same-sex attraction in the other wise unstable situations, it doesn't make a dime of difference in the outcome. Well, I do not think that that was worth a million bucks.....

Or maybe it is. Lets see. There are already plenty studies showing that kids in stable same-sex families are doing at least as good as their counterparts in heterosexual families. Now we know also that if the same-sex families are less stable, they do less good as well. So, if we want kids to do well, we need to provide them with stable environments. And what is the best form for that, marriage. Same-sex marriage.  So, what the Witherspoon Institute and Bradley Foundation have gotten for their expensive study is additional proof that what they want is BAD! Congratulations.

Mark Regnerus' slide into the abyss

Last week, Mark Regnerus, managed to publish an abysmal bad and politically motivated study on how kids of gay parents are doing worse than kids of intact biological families. I have read the article, and it is a master piece of gay bashing. Yes, there are the mandatory caveats, but really, the study design is so abysmally bad that you have to wonder how the hell passed his tenure review. Well, I have an idea, by staying away of the highly controversial topics till he had tenure.This means two things.

1. The study was not bad because he does not know better. He knows the ropes of the field, and the bad design has to be deliberate.

2. As he has not yet published anything before on the topic is same-sex parenting, so one can wonder whether he had a long time plan to do this distorted research in order to make his point.

Anyway, his name is now widely linked to abysmal bad research that has the smell of homophobia and deliberate distortion. The academic fall-out will only become visible in the years to come, when researchers prefer to stay away from him because of his overt anti-gay agenda.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Education reform

Education is the key to the future. Most people will agree on this. But can be capitalize education and get the result we want. Like a previous post about why health care is so outrageous expensive in this country, capitalization of education fails for similar reasons.

The key problem with the dropping effectivity of education is that it serves the wrong customer. Colleges and universities serve the students. And the state and federal government encourages that for the same flawed logic. They demand certain graduation rates, or they cut the budget under the idea that low graduation rates means bad education. I argue that it is much more likely that the opposite is true. Let me explain.

When you measure universities and colleges by their graduation rates, there are two ways to achieve that. One is to do a better job at teaching (which is the hope), and the second is to lower the requirements for graduation. When two options to achieve the same arbitrary goal exist, what does a system do? It finds the easiest way to a solution. And in this case, that is often by lowering the requirements for graduation. Because if you lower the requirements by 1%, you will have instant increased graduation rates. Try doing that by improving teaching.

The core of the problem under all this is the wrong focus on who is the client. As I indicated above, the focus is on students as the client. And rule number one in business is to satisfy the client. So, what to do when too many students fail their class and become dissatisfied clients? Lower the requirements so they can graduate.

But this problem goes deeper. A standard aspect of teacher evaluation at universities is student evaluations. Sounds great. Let the students evaluate the teacher. The client gives feeback to the producer about the quality of the product. Perfect example of consumer driven evaluation. Very capitalistic! And it works. Bad teachers get bad evaluations. And that is how it is supposed to be. Right? really? Does it?

It doesn't. It doesn't because it focuses on the wrong client. Universities traditionally have as a task to produce people who can do certain professions in society. Whether this are public of private institutions, even the later receive most money from the government through grants and loans to students (independent of the student can actually pay those loans back).

So, why is the government paying so much for education? To subsidize the dreams of individuals? No. When dreams of students match up with their major, nice, but ultimately, governments spend money on education to educate people so they can contribute to society. And with that in mind, we should realize that the client the universities need to serve is society.

And what would that change? Well, if we take the needs of society as the benchmark for education, graduation rates as a primary measure of success are useless. Graduation rates are nothing if those students cannot find jobs at the level they are supposedly being trained for. But that should be the criteria for success.

This criteria contains two factors. One is the level at which they are supposed to be trained and the second is whether the university was successful in doing exactly that. Once we step away from student driven quality norms, and go to society driven quality norms, we get a handle to actually reform education and bring it to the level it needs to be at.

Instead of having teachers lowering their standards so they have 70% of the students pass the class, we have to get to setting a priori standard of what students should know, and if 80%, of the students fail for a class, so be it. The students that survive will at least know what they need to know. And once we measure universities by how well their students do instead of have they jumped the hoops in the proper order, maybe we can stop the gradual decline in oblivion.

PS, don't get me going about the practice of grade curving, which is the ultimate tool for students as a group to lower the standards for a class by collectively sitting back and do nothing. Because in the end, if you are just a tad better than the 20% losers, you have a good grade. Students don't compete against each other, they find the best strategy to passing grades that leaves most time for partying.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Paying through the nose for emergency room visits so that Americans can proclaim they have freedom of choice when it comes to health care insurance!

Last weekend, I had a wonderful discussion with one of my hard-core republican neighbors about health care insurance and Obama care. She was very much opposed to socialized health care because it was socialism. Eeeuuuwwwwww..... No, you should take care of that yourself, and if you are not working, tough luck, because everybody who can work can have healthcare insurance. Right...... (That's a blog post on its own, I leave that for another time)

Anyway, she was very much surprised when I told here that the socialized health care in the Netherlands was cheaper per capita than in the capitalized US health care 'system'. Of course she didn't believe me. O well.

But the most interesting part was the discussion about why the costs for health care per capita in the US are larger than any other country. There are of course a whole slew of reasons for that, but one that I like to discuss here is the use of Emergency Rooms as last ditch primary care. People without health care insurance often wait with going to the doctor when they are sick in the hope that it will go away with home remedies, over the counter medication, or that the body deals with it by itself. But when that does not happen, people end up in the room when the situation worsens and they need urgent care. That is were the costs come in, because a 100 dollar visit to a primary care physician has now multiplied itself to a 1,000+ dollar bill. A bill they cannot pay anyways.

Here is the crux. My neighbor, who vehemently opposed ObamaCare because it was ugly socialism, really really agreed with the statement that we could not let people die. At the same time, she really really didn't want to have socialized health care because it is evil socialist yuckyness.... This dual choice results in lack of primary care (which is cheap) for many people and racked up emergency room bills (which is really expensive) for those waiting too long in order to avoid large health care bills. So, who is paying those emergency room bills? Well, not the people who tried to avoid using the health care system in the first place because they don't have the money to pay for it. They are more likely to go bankrupt because of it. Wna when that happens, who pays the bill? Exactly, the taxpayer.

In short, her choice to have 'freedom' in whether to have health care insurance resulted in higher costs for society because we were not consistent with our mantra that everybody should take care of themselves. Because when it comes to the point of letting someone die, society at large has decided that letting someone die of a curabvle medical issue is not accaptable, hence we allow gthem to flock the increadible expensive emergeny rooms, but we refuse to provide them with a cheaper option because it infringes on the perceived 'freedom' of choosing yourself whether you want to have health care or not. This inconsitency results in far mo0re tax payer dollars to go to health care then when we would be consistent in our choice. Either we choose to have the freedom to be insurced or not buit we let people die who do not have health care insurance, or we provide a meaningful option so that everybody can have affordable health care. This hybrid system of denying health care when you are not yet almost dead but allowing to use the emergency room as a last ditch effort to prevent someone from becoming a carcass is the most expensive compromise you can imagine. But try to tell that to someone who listen only to the republican propaganda channel to Fox News.