Thursday, April 17, 2014

Important parapsychology news

Back in 2010 I posted about the remarkable parapsychology experiments of Daryl Bem which seemed to establish a small but consistent effect of precognition.   The experiments were very clever, and rather odd in many respects.  (The most successful one involved guessing behind which curtain was an erotic photo!  But I guess testing for precognition is always going to feel weird.)

In 2012, I noted that one attempt at replicating the experiments had failed.  (See, I am very fair.)

Now, Dean Radin reports that there has in fact been many experimenters who have had successful replication.

The full paper pre-print detailing this can be downloaded from here.  Although the statistical analysis talk is hard for a lay person to follow in full detail, the conclusion of successful replication seems very clear.  The paper's background discussion, and its concluding sections about implications for future science research, make it a very interesting read.

I guess one has to wait to see what the skeptics have to say about this (Radin is pessimistic they will ever be convinced), but this appears to me to very significant.

Update:  the original experiments were hotly contested by skeptic types, and early failure to replicate were treated as dismissing it all.  Bem himself spoke about the debunkers here.  

Tobis on the likely El Nino

Michael Tobis has his own take on climate change which I have always found pretty convincing (he has always emphasised "weather weirding" as being an important sign of climate change), and his recent post on the likely El Nino of later this year is an interesting read.

(Another idiosyncratic take on matters by MT is that he doesn't like the "redefining" of global warming to include ocean warming.  That seems a rather odd position to me.)

Anyway, he is betting that  the El Nino will (finally) lead to a globally hotter year than 1998, which will be followed by persistently hotter years as a further "step up" in the process of global warming.  This is pretty much what is needed to finally shut up and (further) marginalise the denialists.  They already are marginalised scientifically; what is needed is their marginalisation politically.

Incidentally, I just stumbled across in my old magazine collection (I am being put under pressure to thrown them out - I am resisting) a January 1986 Discover cover story on global warming.   Apart from the sensationalism on the cover (questioning whether New York would be more or less flooded by the 2030's), a quick peruse of the article itself shows that the scientific view and warnings (and appreciation of uncertainties) has been remarkably consistent since that time.   I have also read much of Stephen Schneider's book "Science as a Contact Sport", which gives a good background as to how science developed its concern about the topic, and one interesting point he makes is that Lindzen from the start was a skeptic about it being a problem.

Perhaps I should scan the Discover article and link it here one day, so people can see how fair it was.

Mining methane

BBC News - Methane hydrate: dirty fuel or energy saviour?

The article looks at the question of whether mining methane hydrates would be a good idea, or not.  One thing it doesn't mention is what sort of benefits could come from the widespread use of methane for fuel cells, rather than burning it.  I would like to know what difference that would make.

Update:  interestingly, via the link in the last paragraph, you can get to a Tim Worstall post about fuel cells, about which he seems to know quite a bit.  His conclusion:
My basic belief about solid oxide fuel cells is that they’re going to be the technology we all end up using. No, I don’t know the precise technology, rare earth, scandium, bismuth, that will win out in the marketplace. But my operating assumption is that wind and/or solar to the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen which is then stored to be run through a solid oxide fuel cell is the basic answer to future energy needs.
Carbon pricing to make that happen faster would help, no?

Give this man another job

Public bathrooms and homophobia: why are men afraid to pee together?

Am I the only person who finds Slate gay editor J Bryan Lowder consistently annoying?

I think it's rubbish to suggest that the majority of (male) paruresis is due to homophobia.  I very much doubt it has anything to do with the perceived sexuality of the unwanted observer for any sufferer. It's just a self feeding loop of "performance" embarrassment, I reckon.  (Years ago here, I noted my own - relatively mild - case being instituted by ridicule by a couple of older students in primary school.)

I'll also repeat my point that I think it is pretty easily relieved for many men by inexpensive bathroom design for simple privacy screens between the individual urinals that are now standard in public toilets.  I still puzzle why architects, or whoever it is comes up bathroom designs for new buildings, do not recognize the benefit of that simple feature.

Local cold can be very misleading

David Appell notes with a map how incredibly unwise it can be to extrapolate what global temperatures must be doing from one locally cold month.

So that's what it takes to get Gerard Henderson animated...

My goodness.  Gerard Henderson on Lateline is livid, shouting and being nonsensical about Barry O'Farrell being a victim of the ICAC process.

What is it with much of the Right in Australia with their acquired inability to deal with the rhetorical use of "truth" and "truthfulness" with care?   First, it was Julia Gillard and their insistence that an (alleged) broken promise was actually a deliberate lie.   (True, Gillard compounded the problem by wrongly conceding that her carbon pricing scheme was actually a broken promise - a tax - but still the Right wing echo chamber latched onto "lie" and never let go despite the lack of evidence.)   

Now it seems that Gerard Henderson has a poor grip on matters of "truth".  The journalist was saying that O'Farrell did not tell the truth, on the not unreasonable grounds that he today resigned when he admitted he must have given wrong evidence under oath to the commission yesterday.  "No", said an extremely agitated Gerard (I'm paraphrasing):  "you have no evidence to make the accusation of his untruthfulness and it's outrageous that you are - it's all explained by his having a poor memory."

Gerard, let's take this carefully:

1.  Giving detailed evidence under oath that something did not occur, and that he surely would have known if it had occurred, and then agreeing the next day that it now looks certain that it did occur, means the first evidence was not true;

2.  It is not a distortion of English to say that the first evidence which was given was "untruthful";

3.  What you and O'Farrell are arguing is that it was not deliberately untruthful;

4.  I believe if I check the transcript tomorrow that the the journalist you were shouting at and virtually telling to shut up was not even insisting that she believed O'Farrell had been deliberately untruthful.   

5.  There are, obviously, possible grounds for people to be inclined to disbelieve O'Farrell.  [Updateeven Andrew Bolt says that.  Are you getting out the whip to attack him?]  Whether or not you think people who think he was dishonest have formed a fair judgement is up to you to dispute, but don't get all high and mighty about how it is impossible for anyone to disbelieve O'Farrell's explanation.   People are disbelieved in court all the time, and it's not treated as some inherent outrage against justice.

6.  Even without believing him to have been deliberately dishonest, his performance raises pretty big questions about his competence and reliability, and it was without doubt a major embarrassment that even you seem to concede left him with little option other than to resign;

7.  As many have said, the allegation had been around for months; O'Farrell had time to check, and if he could find no evidence, he still would have been wise to give evidence of no recollection of the gift and emphasise that if it had been made it did not win any contract for the lobbyist anyway.   Sure, having "no recollection" from a politician does usually come across as weasel words of convenience (as it did with Sinodinos,) but if that's the truth, then it can be wise to use it.  Better than being emphatic about how you would have remembered if it had happened.

As with Andrew Bolt, O'Farrell's problem with the law was one which was self created, but at least he is man enough to take it on the chin and not complain (unlike Gerard, and Bolt regarding his own case.)

Update:  here is the grand low point of Gerard Henderson's political pundit career:

GERARD HENDERSON: Yeah, but that's a very unfair implication. You're suggesting the former premier may have given misleading evidence. There's no evidence to support that. That's your theory based on sitting in the room. He may ...

KATE MCCLYMONT: Gerard, he's resigned. He's resigned.

GERARD HENDERSON: Yes, because he said he forgot. So ...

KATE MCCLYMONT: No, no, he didn't resign because he said he forgot.

GERARD HENDERSON: No. No, no, he said he forgot. You're suggesting that he didn't tell the truth. That's what you're suggesting.

KATE MCCLYMONT: Yes, I am suggesting that.

GERARD HENDERSON: Well that's a very serious allegation to make with no evidence. You have no evidence that he didn't tell the truth. That's an outrageous allegation to make.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Talk about a curriculum in need of review...

Pakistan's Islamic seminaries pair science with the Quran -

An interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor on how the Madrassas in Pakistan hold back the country, by teaching (shall we say) to somewhat less than modern standards:
The students follow a 500-year-old curriculum adopted across South
Asia. The oversized book used in Mr. Haq's class, a collection of ahadith, or
sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad, is centuries old and
written in Arabic. Commentary written in Urdu in present-day India fills
the margins.

“This country was built on Islam, the idea of following God's teachings. Here we are learning how to do that,” says Haq.

 What students learn, and don’t learn, in thousands of such private seminaries is a matter of concern for Pakistan’s government. Under a national security policy unveiled last month, Pakistan aims to bring madrassas under tighter state control, update their curricula to tone down extremist views, and introduce subjects like mathematics and science. The goal is to turn out graduates capable of getting decent jobs who won’t be tempted to join the Taliban or other militant groups.
But even government schools in the country have a little way to go:
... only 39 percent of government schools in Pakistan have electricity.  Three million children never attend a single class, according to an official 2011 survey. Critics say the focus on regulating madrassas ignores the broader failure of Pakistan's leaders to invest in primary
 Also, Tom Brown's School Days has got nothing on this:
Fakhar Kakakhel, a journalist who reports from the tribal areas, says around a hundred madrassas there are known to supply militants with child suicide bombers. Set up to help children memorize Islamic texts, these seminaries operate on a shoestring budget and are not registered with any clerical oversight body.

After a decade of war though, Kakahel says parents are starting to pull children out. “They
say we sent our kids to learn the Quran, not become suicide bombers.”
 What a country...

Blow up

Isn't it funny how an enquiry into corrupt Labor figures is leading to the downfall of well regarded Liberals (Sinodinos, now O'Farrell). 


Ted Cruz Is Beating Rand Paul in the Tea Party Primary - Molly Ball - The Atlantic

According to this article, Ted Cruz seems to be more popular than Rand Paul with the Tea Party.

That's not what's "hopeless":  it's the fact both of these politicians are terrible.

Best not eaten

Student's death in Colorado raises questions on pot and health - Los Angeles Times

I noticed this report last week but forgot about it til today.

Interestingly, it says there is concern about the sudden popularity of eating marijuana:
More attention needs to be focused on edible forms of the drug, which are especially popular with first-time users, health officials say. The treats, candies and elixirs are among the hottest new products since pot became legal, making up 40% of all sales so far. And while edible
products are packaged with warning labels and potency levels, officials worry those cautions may not go far enough.

By law, such products can contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving, but often
consumers don't pay attention to serving sizes. One large brownie can contain up to 10 servings, or 100 milligrams, of THC.

Dr. Paula Riggs, a psychology professor and director of the division of substance dependence at the University of Colorado Denver, says smoking marijuana hits the central nervous system quickly. But edible marijuana has a delayed reaction so people often keep eating, looking for a buzz. "A half-hour later they are on their back," she said.

Least worthy academic suggestion of the year (so far)

From a navel gazing white looking gay aboriginal artist who appears to like making wool penis coverings:
 Perhaps what is needed now is the establishment of a field of Queer-Aboriginal studies where we can create discourse to assert ourselves from our own knowledge position.
[Crikey, I've gone all Andrew Bolt (and Steve Irwin) for a moment.  Slap me quick, someone.]

Amateur spies are downloading it now

Try the Super-Secure USB Drive OS That Edward Snowden Insists on Using

Making things still happening

Death of manufacturing nothing to whine about

Ross Gittons column going into details on how manufacturing has changed in Australia works as a bit of a corrective to overly pessimistic views on its future here.  (Although it does refer to making certain foods as "manufacturing" too, whereas that's a bit out of the mental image I usually have when I hear commentators talking about "manufacturing".  I'm  not sure that I would be happy with my country not being able to make anything out of metal, for example, even if it had world leading cup noodle manufacturing facilities.) 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A surprise in the letterbox

Finland’s graphic gay bondage stamps are amazing.

It's a great pity I don't have the postal address for some Catallaxy commenters, who are amongst the people on the internet most likely to be outraged if they received a letter using these stamps.  (And, truth be told, it is a weird decision from Finland to use these images.)

Stressed Dad makes for depressed offspring

Sperm RNA carries marks of trauma

This seems pretty odd and surprising, but stressing young male mice leads to them having more depressed offspring,  and it appears clear that it through the effect on sperm cells.  (They included a test to make sure it was not just being passed on "socially".)

Solomon Islands, floods and climate change

I've been saying for a few years now (following Australia's extraordinary run of floods in 2011/12) that more frequent, more damaging floods may well be the first really clear adverse consequence of climate change.

I have been curious to see whether the Solomon Islands devastating floods were the result of clearly exceptional rainfall, especially given that one would expect that an island in the South Pacific would be no stranger to some heavy downpours.

It's been hard to find precise figures for the Solomon Islands event, however.   Several websites referred to "record rainfall", without specifying how much of a record it was.  I think I heard someone on Radio National from the Island claim it was (from memory) much worse than anticipated levels for a 1 in a 100 year flood.  (He also said he had not heard anyone there claim it was due to increased illegal logging.)

The Solomon Islands weather bureau seems to be out of action for any such details, which is hardly surprising.

As for actual figures, I have at last tracked down some:
Around 138m of rain fell in 24 hours on 2 April in Honiara, and a further 318mm fell the next day. The Low Pressure System that caused the rainfall remains in the region and further rain is expected over the next 24 hours.
Not being a meteorologist, how big are those numbers?  Well, in a tropical Queensland context, pretty big.  From a November 2013 news report:
Parts of the north Queensland coast have been lashed by record rainfall with thunderstorms causing flash flooding.

Bowen on Queensland's Burdekin coast officially recorded 267 millimetres overnight.

That is more than double the previous 24 hour rain record for the month of 129 millimetres set in 1950.  Jonty Hall from the weather bureau says much of that came in an hour long deluge.

"Drainage really struggles to cope with that sort of rainfall especially over that period of time," he said.

In the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island registered 233 millimetres - also well up on the previous November record of 145 millimetres in 1991
But in absolute terms, 318 mm is just over a third of the record Queensland daily rain record (an extraordinary 907 mm in 1893, apparently.)   

I wonder what the previous daily record in Solomon Islands is, then.   This site indicates that the average monthly rainfall for March and April are about 350 and 220 mm respectively, which does show that one day of 318mm is a lot.   But in fact, Tully, widely regarded as Australia's wettest town, appears to have a March average rainfall of 752mm. 

So, it does seem that parts of Queensland are, on average, about twice as wet as the Solomon Islands, which is not something I would have expected.

Also, interestingly, this chart which is at a .pdf page you can link to from here, shows a long term trend of decreasing annual rainfall for Honiara:

So, this is another of those cases where climate change is not of uniform consequence everywhere, which scientists have known for a while, but which denialists can't seem to get their head around.  They also can't get their head around the concept of how climate change can mean that a local climate can (as apparently in Honiara's case) be both generally getting drier, but also intermittently be suffering worse floods than ever due to the intensity of rain when it does fall.   (Roy Spencer really jumped the shark with this post.)

But I still don't know how exceptional the rainfall in Honiara recently really has been, for daily local records.

Update:  it looks like the heaviest daily rainfall on at least at one part of Solomon Islands is only 380mm.  I guess the recent rains might still represent a record over a certain number of days, though; and also,  I don't know where Auki station is.

Various thoughts

I'm still pretty occupied with this and that, but a few more random observations:

*  Judith Sloan looked like she ate a lemon before she came on last night's Q&A.  But I fell asleep during it and missed nearly all of her bon mots.   Did she mention that cyclone warnings are a crock, for example?

*  smoked mussels on a cracker with a slice of ripe avocado is a very nice combination.  (Buy them from Aldi and they are from Europe, not some Chinese polluted pond.)

*   I think I am pretty much over Wes Anderson before I even got into him.  I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel on Saturday night, and still think the best thing of his I have seen is Fantastic Mr Fox.  I mean, the characters  in that actually felt more real than most of the human characters in his other movies.   I have not seen his earlier works, which are well regarded, but I do not understand the critical enthusiasm for the latest movie.  The audience did not seem to find it all that funny either.  (The guy next to me actually seemed to be sighing in disappointment from about the middle onwards.)   Sure, it looks charming, but I need a bit more than that.

* Nicholas Gruen's post about his father's role in aboriginal pay reform in the 1960's is unusually interesting (see the comments following as well.)

*  Has anyone got any suggestion as to how to deal with men or women who work in physical  jobs whose bodies may not last until retirement at 70?   My father was a perfect example - a bricklayer for nearly all his life, who paid off the house but had no retirement savings whatsoever.   It would have been cruel watching him try to continue working at that job til the age of 70. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

A bit of catching up

Here's a few things that caught my eye last week, but about which I did not have time to post:

Greg Jericho looked at what the government can do to increase revenue via taxation in his usual calm and measured way.   Interesting, he includes an international comparative table of combined government expenditure that shows that, as a percentage of GDP in 2012, Australia is actually way, way down the list.   Amongst the highest spending countries are some of the European social democrat ones like Sweden, Denmark and Finland.  The figure for Sweden is surprising at 52% of GDP, as the Washington Post noted late last year that the country had made big cuts:
Sweden’s economic growth has been much higher than that of the rest of Western Europe, or the United States, since 2006. Data from the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that Sweden has one of the lowest inflation rates in Europe; it runs a budget surplus every year; its corporate tax rates are considerably lower than U.S. rates; and it spends more on research and development, as a share of its economy, than we do. Its firms are highly competitive in the world economy, and it runs sizable current-account surpluses.

After its crisis, Sweden reduced public expenditures by 20 percent of its gross domestic product, slashing social transfers such as unemployment benefits and sick-leave compensation. It cut its public debt in half (its debt, as a proportion of the economy, is now about half that of the United States).
So is it the case that Sweden is still a big spender of government money internationally, even after it changed tack somewhat?   I think so, but doesn't the IPA tell us that big government spending as a percentage of GDP is always bad, bad, bad?

*  Speaking of the IPA, Julie Novak apparently did her PhD on government size:
The thesis was entitled “The economic consequences of the size of government in Australia” and she found inter alia that an increase in government size by ten percentage points is associated with a lower annual GDP per capita growth rate of between 1.2 and 2.5 percentage points.
I wonder if the Scandinavians got consideration in it?  Or is Australia just meant to be a special case?

Anyway, consistent with her faith based ideology that taxation is always, always to be reduced, she naturally wrote against increasing the GST in The Drum, a government funded mouthpiece for the IPA which the IPA wants the government to defund.   Funnily enough, she complains about the regressive nature of the GST:
Another dimension of the GST debate which perhaps deserves more attention is that the poor, who generally pay little in income taxes in any case, are likely to financially suffer as a result of increasing the GST because more of their disposable incomes are directed toward everyday consumption items.
Yet, aren't the IPA types always complaining about how its only the rich who are paying all the taxes?   I got the distinct impression they wanted the poor to pay more to pay their way.  

And, what's more, Sinclair Davidson tweeted last week (with apparent approval) a column in the AFR with the title: "‘Regressive’ claim against GST does not stack up."

So who from the IPA do I believe?   Get your act together, fellas; you're not even consistent now.

*   So, Tony Abbott is back from his square gaiting tour of Asia.  There seems to me to be an awful lot of unqualified praise for "free trade" agreement that takes 15 years to fully kick in, and it is a curious thing that only a few commentators have pointed to the Productivity Commission's 2010 skepticism about such bilateral agreements But the mere fact that such diverse commentators as Bernard Keane and Terry MCrann are on the same skeptical side indicates to me that the skepticism is probably well deserved.

And here are a couple of more skeptical takes: from the Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald (both Fairfax outlets, yet the general gist of their political commentary has been to celebrate the deals as a triumph.) 

In fact, prolific blogger on journalistic matters Mr Denmore has been pretty furious about the general journalistic preparedness to read out scripts prepared by (presumably) Peta Credlin on the trade agreements.  I think it clear that he has a point.

Update:   Ha!  Of course it couldn't last.  Terry McCrann, who works for Rupert, naturally has to get in line and praise the Abbott trip to high heaven.

Mind you, I am not at all surprised that the Chinese find an Abbott visit a more pleasant experience than one with 

And I forgot before - not much skeptical commentary around about Abbott flying the kite about joint military operations with China.   Where did that come from?   Was they any spluttering over morning coffee at Russell Offices when they read that?  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Krugman on Piketty

I'll be posting more often again soon, but meanwhile, Paul Krugman's review of the important Piketty book is here and is a good, nuanced, read. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

Death notice

My Mum passed away peacefully in her sleep on Saturday night, aged 90.   As I explained in a previous post, she was mentally sharp until she was 87, and lived independently until 88, which is not a bad run by any means.  Her recent decline with Alzheimers was rapid but not as extreme as some cases, as until the last couple of months the family had confidence that she recognized us, even if she could barely speak.  She's survived by 7 children, 16 grandchildren, and when it comes to great grandchildren I have to get a calculator and consult on numbers.  

I'll be busy with family stuff for a while, then, although I might have time for some posts.

Update:  been going through the photos, as you do.   Here's Mum and Dad on their wedding day in 1950 (Dad died in 1986):