Thursday, December 23, 2010

Font of (Character) Knowledge

I hope you're enjoying yourselves for the holidays, whichever ones you might celebrate. I've been relaxing since I got my shopping done, and while tweaking some (donning my cloak of defying flames) 4E D&D characters, I thought I'd design my own character sheets that appeal to my organizational and note-taking preferences.

So, in comes a request for suggestions, just in case anyone might like their own copy of the final PDFs: What are some good fonts to use, or to avoid? I'm thinking about going for some fancier fonts for the bigger bits of text and an "ordinary" san serif font for smaller things for the sake of readability.

Of course, I suspect the thread may very well turn into a display of horrible fonts as others groan and beat the dead horse of comic sans.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Cult of Permissiveness

I had a flashback to a fundie troll I once dueled with named Annie. She was a crazy mom who repeatedly argued that the atheist readers of the blog chose to become atheists because we wanted to lead a sinful life. That's what she told her children, and we called her a liar for it. I wish I thought to phrase my rebuttals the way I'm going to write this post:

Fundamentalists live in a culture of permissiveness that disgusts us. That disgust is what motivated me to stop attending church. There were a number of moral boundaries I refused to cross, and I refused to associate with anyone who took such a flippant, frivolous attitude towards those boundaries.

The doctrine of Hell requires a permissive attitude towards torture.

Annie's atheist concentration camps (I believe she actually used the phrase "concentration camps"!) require a permissive attitude towards killing and religious persecution.

Creationism requires a permissive attitude towards deception.

Belief that god ordered the wars described in the Old Testament requires a permissive attitude towards genocide.

Belief that god's will is our purpose for living requires a permissive attitude towards slavery.

Belief that our humanity is defined at the moment of conception, in my experience with pro-lifers, appears to require a permissive attitude towards eugenics: The ones I've dealt with essentially were arguing that our DNA defines whether or not we're a person, not our thoughts, emotions, and consciousness.

Belief in the fables about people "cursed" or "chosen" by god was used to establish and maintain a culture of permissiveness towards slavery, murder, and racism.

Belief in the dominance of one sex over another was, and is currently being used to maintain a culture of permissiveness towards rape.

Belief in the value of faith requires a permissive attitude towards hubris and the idea that a person can be infallible and beyond question. In other words, faith is the act of believing oneself to be the supreme being. All the other vices owe a lot towards this attitude.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Minecraft!

It's getting a big Halloween update including the highly anticipated biomes and a rather nasty dimension you can use for fast (and likely dangerous) travel.

So anyway, I'm doing a bit of brainstorming for what I'll build, starting from scratch. Since multiplayer survival's going to be getting some bug fixes, and I may be able to invite other players to my map, I'm thinking about some standard features as well as unique ones.

1. Forts with biome-themed megastructures. I'm going a bit OCD on hexagons and the number 6. The hexagon remains my favorite shape, and it's fun to think of ways to play with this sort of thing.
---Desert: Giant hourglass with obsidian caps, like I've repeatedly failed to build in Dwarf Fortress. Unlike DF, I can fill this one with sand and make it look like it's in the middle of falling. The center of the top chamber will have a mini-oasis. The bases will be hexagonal, and the rooms inside will be 36 meters (blocks) from opposite corners.
---Tundra or Taiga: Something involving a giant six-pointed snowflake, possibly made of ice. It may be tricky to find a way to light it without melting any of the ice.
---Forest: ?
---Swamp: ?
---Ocean: Giant truncated tetrahedron (hexagonal face pointed up) floating in the air. I'm thinking of access by waterfall: Boats will float up waterfalls, and there'll be one in the down-pointing triangular face. The other three triangular faces may act as entry points for a minecart station on the top floor.
---Savanna/Grasslands: ?

I'll probably spend a long time getting all the resources together for just the desert fort and hourglass, but if I do get to the point that I can get other players on my map, I may give some of you creative control over the megastructures and the nearby support forts. Just remember: Do something with hexagons and/or the number six.

2. Cabins: Distributed cabins, including one at the spawn point (assuming my priority desert site isn't right there.) They're meant to be waypoints in case night falls while traveling from one place to another, or if the sun sets sooner than I expected. They'll have some nice decorations, chests with basic supplies, and generally be a nice quiet place to spend the night. They'll also be connected to nearby mines and serve as a base for mine workers.
---Standard features:
A. Cobblestone or brick chimney with a furnace (fireplace) inside for smelting.
B. Chests with basic equipment a lost/respawned player might need.
C. Cozy atmosphere (Decorations, windows with a good view)

3. Lighthouses: For navigation aid. Each will have an identifying rune made from lava behind glass. For easy memorization, make it look like a twist on a standard character.

4. For my desert fort, I was thinking of making it a big stone hexagon, maybe with glass extensions at the points. Inside, there'd be a ring of 12 hexagonal rooms with a large "lab" in the center for me to tinker with redstone, minecarts, and whatever else Notch might be adding. As for the purpose of the various rooms, well, I haven't decided on all of them. Some would be workshops for different materials, but others would be there to look good, like a library, swimming pool, dining room with makeshift table and chairs, sitting room in a glass point to watch the sunset, and so on. Floating above this fort, of course, would be the hourglass I described.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Picking Things Back Up

I've been delving into the limits of my talent for procrastination, but I think I'll try to end that experiment: From this day forth, I'll try to post once a day. I have contemplated getting back in by goading Skeptico's recent troll, Peter Pan, but I'll ask for some input before I invite him. Ryan seems to think I struck one of his nerves (though, of course, that perception doesn't prove anything by itself), and I'm curious if I could force him to concede even the tiniest things.

Of course, troll roasting is just one possibility. I'll be thinking of other stuff to post:

1. New Doggerel entries. There's no shortage of cliches used to support bad logic. I'll try to get back to some regularity.
2. Gaming stuff: I've had some fun during my procrastination experiments. A few items: Master of Orion 2 (haven't tried any multiplayer, yet.), Metroid: Other M, and Minecraft.
3. New series concept: Denialist Doublethink. There are a lot of woos who say one thing, yet act as if they believe the opposite. It'll probably start out with heavy focus on alties.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

To a Fucking Altie Racist

I am not going to be the least bit polite to you in this post. Racism doesn't deserve gentle words. If you're reading this, it's because either I or one of my readers caught you saying something racist, but also because you said it in such a fucking casual manner. Polite language isn't going to grab your attention or force you to look in the mirror. I also think some of my fellow skeptics could use a bit of a nudge to pay attention to this sort of thing. It's sad that many of us have just gotten used to your brand of casual racism and/or gotten too tired to point it out.

"Eastern" people are not almond-eyed gods with wisdom beyond our "Western" understanding. They are human just like the rest of us, and thus they are subject to the same cognitive failings we are. I don't care how fucking long they've been using some herb or poking a particular spot with needles. The invisible hand of the market isn't that great at figuring out what medicines work. That's why we "Westerners" insist on rigorous, transparent safety and efficacy trials for medicine.

The only reason people like me place any trust at all in the local pharmacy is because we have all sorts of organizations keeping the manufacturers in check. We support the existence of regulations that force people to test medical claims before they unleash their product on the market.

Some people, most likely including you, dear racist, seem to think that "Eastern" people are just so magical and so wise that they are immune to the failings of us mere mortals. Because you think this, you can just trust the blind market traditions. Human perception is flawed, regardless of what part of the globe that human was born in. Because human perception is flawed, all sorts of bad and useless superstitions can persist over long periods of time.

I have little reason to doubt that there have been useful treatments to come from that region of the world, despite what your Big Placebo indoctrination would say. Just by sheer coincidence, there's bound to be some useful treatments out of any culture group. Of course, there's also going to be lots and lots of useless and harmful treatments as well. Remember the first emperor of China? Acute mercury poisoning by his alchemists. Why mercury? Because mercury dissolves the "immortal" metal of gold, and supposedly that's supposed to extend life because Ancient Chinese Tradition or whatever says the human body is like an ingot of gold. Even if I got that wrong, I doubt the actual answer makes better sense.

What we are demanding isn't a "Western" standard, it's a human standard. It's your fucking racism that makes you label it "Western." One of the chief premises behind science is that people are fallible, thus we undergo all those trials, retesting, verification, and statistical analysis so that we can be sure that it's more likely the force in question doing the work than our capacity to deceive ourselves.

But racist assholes like you don't want complex stories or the uncertainty of noisy data. You want superhuman god-men to look up to and obey, and ooooo! the East is so exotic and mysterious! They must be somehow fundamentally better than the boring old West.

That's how you come across when you say that "Western" standards can't measure "Eastern" things, as if the historical accident that caused modern scientific thought take its first steps on one location instead of another somehow magically contaminates the very concept of inquiry. Good science involves making the "who" of the experimenter completely irrelevant. Authoritarian epistemology does the opposite: Trust the authority because it's an authority, and it's an authority because it says so.

I don't trust the guys in lab coats because they have lab coats. I trust them because they're being forced by scientific insistence on rigor, peer reviewers, consumer protection laws, and government organizations to show their work as thoroughly and unambiguously as nature will allow. The "authority" is in the work, not the person. There are no gurus or priests, only the answers nature gives us when we take the time to ask the question properly.

So don't give us any more shit about how superhuman some people on a particular half of the globe are. Everyone is fallible, therefore every idea should be equally open to scrutiny. Race and nationality are not free passes.

Very sincerely,
Bronze Dog.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Poverty of the Creationist Imagination

This post isn't going to be about the usual shortcomings in a Creationist's imagination, like their inability to appreciate how long a million years is or how many living things there are on this world. It's about the inherent violence and hunger for power that drives their thinking.

In my experience (your mileage may vary, of course), the typical Creationist looks at science the way Hollywood and Saturday morning cartoons do: To them, science is just fancy magic people use to grab power.

Let's say someone actually invents a shrink ray. Your typical science and tech savvy person will be thinking stuff along the lines of "Does this mean I could install a gaming-quality computer into something the size of a pocket calculator?" at the very least. Others will be thinking of ways of fast transit: If you can shrink a payload's mass, it'll take less energy to transport it, assuming you can unshrink it later.

Your typical Creationist will instead be thinking, "Oh, noes! They're going to shrink the moon and hold it for ransom!"

That's the general illustration. One example I recall was a ban on research into mixing human genes into other species because the Creationists thought stuff along the lines of "Oh noes! They're going to make pig slaves and pig soldiers!" when those of us in the know were thinking of growing replacement human organs in livestock or bacteria that can mass produce vital hormones sick people need.

Another poverty that comes to mind is the Creationist idea that evolution is supposed to be a progression to bigger, stronger, and more badass. Complete bullshit. This kind of thinking is why you have idiots driving Canyoneros on big, flat cities to ultimately visit the corner convenience store, when a bike or *gasp* walking would be much easier. Bigger is not necessarily better. Bigger takes a lot of resources that might have better uses. Stronger doesn't matter if you don't need brute force.

This is especially true with humans. Just look at our civilization today. Our strength as a species isn't brute muscle, sharp claws, or fleetness of foot: It's our ability to cooperate and specialize. We're a brainy species. We can coordinate our efforts in amazing ways by communication. We're plastic enough that we can develop our own specialties to cover the weaknesses of others or enhance their strengths.

If we were as brutal as the straw men they implied, we wouldn't have doctors, and we wouldn't be constantly looking for new ways to improve medicine. When cooperation is your greatest strength, altruism comes naturally. Because we care for our sick, many of them get to grow up to be productive members of society and thus contribute to the good of our species.

This simple concept is often lost on Creationists who treat altruism like some sort of sacred (or profane) disadvantage with no practical value. Because they can't imagine altruism having a practical value, they assume evolution couldn't come up with it, and thus they start spreading their ignorance about evolution favoring individual selfishness. It's projection on a massive scale.

I find the eugenics projection particularly galling. After the fundie eugenicists started getting stigmatized and decided (for the sake of appearances only) that Darwin was right about it being immortal to impose livestock breeding methods on humans, they tried to turn it around, including a popular quote mine where they replace Darwin's disgust for the idea with ellipses, trying to claim that we're in favor of eugenics.

Uh, fellas, don't you know anything about our farming monocultures? You know that urban legend going around about how the modern dessert banana's going to be extinct within X years? There's a grain of truth to that: Seedless bananas are pretty much just clones of one another. At any time, nature could throw just the right kind of blight at the breed, and we'd have to start over from scratch. Aside from the natural altruism we have for our fellow sentient beings, we have a desire to avoid extinction.

Genetic diversity is a hedge against extinction. The more diversity there is, the more likely some members of the threatened species has some gene combination that overcomes whatever catastrophe eventually comes along. Eugenics reduces diversity, and with it, the chances something like a pandemic could cripple or wipe out mankind. Eugenics has a talent for creating stuff that serves a specifically desired function, but it has a bad habit of causing all sorts of problems. Founder effects can make rare recessive defects commonplace through inbreeding. You get livestock that couldn't survive without human supervision. And usually, with those favoring human eugenics programs, all you'd get out of it is a species that appeals to some guy's fetish for clones.

This culturally outdated alpha male craving for dominance and power just stands out whenever I hear a Creationist trying to tell me what I believe instead of actually listening. We've all got plenty of baggage from our simian ancestors, but we have to work past that sort of violent, selfish thinking if we want to prosper as a civilization.

The Creationists I know, however, can only offer strife and anarchy as an alternative.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pushing the Product

Denice Walter commented over at Respectful Insolence:
For years my SO has brought me a local new agey magazine ( actually, it's 75% advert and 25% "info-tisement"- i.e. articles promoting woo or practitioners), called "Inner Realm".


And it got me thinking:

In science, there is a LOT of literature devoted to basic research with no guarantee of a product on the horizon. You have to learn how to crawl before you make promises about your Running Man delivery service. Science isn't like Sid Meier's Civilization. You can't make plans to build a cavalry unit on the expectation that you'll finish research on Horseback Riding in 4 turns. In the real world, we don't know what fruits our research will bear, or even if it will bear anything. Every idea has to be extensively tested to see if it can be used effectively and practically.

This is especially true of medicine. Just because a drug works on a petri dish doesn't mean that it'll perform the same in a living body. It could be neutralized by some normal body process that doesn't occur in the cell culture. It could be absorbed by some filter before it gets to where it needs to go. It could have an unexpected side effect on another part of the body. That's why we demand so many tests before we unleash it on the market, and why we cringe whenever some newspaper cries "Cure!" over and over for everything that shows the slightest bit of promise.

In contrast, quackery seems obsessed with getting a product out as soon as they can. Instead of performing all the extensive tests we demand of any new treatment idea, they push directly to the market, as if their customers were their own guinea pigs. They get an idea and move right to human trials without bothering to keep extensive records. They get antsy whenever we ask basic research questions or show concern for the consumers: The same checks and balances we're in favor of using against "Big Pharma" in the form of watchdog institutions.

And they typically accuse us of being pro-corporate.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tabloid Facepalm

Just a small post, hopefully to help me get back into the swing of blogging. I used to strive to average at least a post a day. Anyway, onto an observation:

Yesterday, when I was buying some Dr Pepper bottles I saw a tabloid at the checkout line (I think it was National Enquirer or something like that) with the fake Kenyan Obama birth certificate on the front page. It's bad enough that printed media was writing an article on that hoax, presumably without any reference to the myriad deliberate anachronisms, but it's just sad that they were reacting as if they had just now read about it on their Twitter feed.

...Sounds like what I've seen of Glenn Beck, actually.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

How to Deal With Drug Companies

There are a lot of drugs out there and corrupt people who want to sell them for a profit, even if it harms the customer. Here are a couple of modest ideas on how we should deal with that problem.

Plan #1

Attitude:

Corporations are the enemy. They exist to make money, and have an insidious tendency to direct groupthink towards maximizing profits, even among otherwise normal people. Unfortunately, there are a lot of sick people out there who need effective treatments, and corporate greed can be a very effective motivation to put all the resources needed for mass production of those treatments together. On the whole, corporations are a necessary evil until someone can devise a better means of safely producing and testing drugs.

Culture:

Encourage scientific and critical thought. Require that evidence be easily available for review and critique. Encourage openness and international cooperation between parties of different backgrounds and motivation.

Don't trust anyone at their word alone. Don't trust in "common knowledge" or that gutter known as mainstream media, which has a habit of laying off or ignoring their science reporting division. Don't trust chain emails.

Corporations must be held in check by watchdogs, not just in the government, but by scientists, doctors, and other concerned individuals from multiple backgrounds.

Regulation:

In the past, caveat emptor capitalism led to shoddy production. Because people's lives are at stake, there is little room to allow for error. We must assume that corporations will cut corners wherever they can, and that will include safety testing. Given the placebo effect, corporations will be heavily tempted to cut corners on efficacy testing as well. As such, we must form an institution that will watchdog the corporations and force them to undergo a rigorous program to prove their products are both safe and effective. It would probably go something like this:

Step 1: Cell culture: This phase is mostly so the company can find promising treatments without involving a risk to a living being.

Step 2: Animal testing: Just because something works in a petri dish doesn't mean that it'll work within the context of a whole living animal. Living things are complex entities, full of conflicting forces. All too many medical claims that float around by word of mouth are based solely on preliminary studies that never involved an entire organism.

Step 3: Human trials: Because this is the most important and risky part of drug testing, it is divided into its own phases. It's especially important to be rigorous in controlling and blinding these experiments because human bias, coincidence, and the placebo effect can easily alter the results of a shoddy experiment.

Phase I: Safety trials: Experiments done specifically for the purpose of finding out if the human body can tolerate the drug in question. Animal trials aren't perfect, which means there could be unforeseen consequences in the human body.

Phase II & III: Efficacy testing: Trials done with a smaller and then a larger group. Without these trials, the patent medicine era of alcohol-induced placebo effects could easily return. The drug in question must prove more effective than a placebo.

Step 4: Approval: Only after a drug has passed all of these trials can a corporation be allowed to sell the drug.

Step 5: Post-market research: Reality has a way of throwing unexpected turns at humanity. It's quite possible there may be dangerous interactions with other drugs that were missed in earlier tests, unexpected dangers for people with certain conditions, a side effect that simply didn't show strongly in the test groups, or any other tragic surprises. If these are detected in the wider population, the drug may be subjected to recalls mandated by the regulatory body. Without this regulation, corporate bean counters could easily just market the drug willy-nilly and accept the loss of a few customers.

Plan #2: The Alternative Solution

Attitude:

Draw an imaginary line. Call one side "alternative" and the other side "conventional." The corporations on the "alternative" side are perfect angels, incapable of making a mistake or having a dishonest or greedy intention. The corporations on the "conventional" side are pure evil and just want to do stuff like poison babies for no reason whatsoever. Because, you know, that's how it is in the movies.

Culture:

Allow the "alternative" corporations to manufacture a culture predisposed to blindly trusting them. The imaginary line must be enforced as an absolute tenet of faith, because the "alternative" corporations rely on being granted special privileges to help them compete. Encourage people to be dismissive of safety and efficacy trials as a waste of time because treating people with blind shots in the dark is much more important work than being informed or understanding the problem.

Encourage doublethink. For example, nearly every member of the de facto "alternative" cartel says they have the one true solution to every health problem, but if it doesn't work for the customer, tell them that everyone reacts differently to absolutely everything and that they should shop around among other members of the "alternative" group and subjecting themselves to shoddy experimentation.

Encourage customers to think that they are infallible gods, incapable of mistaking placebo effects for genuine benefit. Encourage parents to think that simply producing a child makes them immune to human weaknesses of perception and memory.

Regulation:

Bog down the "conventional" corporations by making them go through all those regulatory hurdles in plan 1 and still doubt their results by pretending they're secretly in control of the regulatory body of this nation, as well as all the universities involved in the research. Pretend that there are no other nations out there to test the drugs, or that their analogous regulatory bodies are also in on the conspiracy, despite the untenability of massive conspiracies. Because we all know that, as Hollywood keeps telling us in its action thrillers, worldwide conspiracies of thousands of people are really easy to pull off.

Get a bunch of lobbyists to make an exception for some of the "alternative" drugs by calling them "supplements" instead of drugs and make them nearly immune to regulation. Because we all know perfect angels don't need to do rigorous safety and efficacy tests and can just be taken at their word. They need all the profits help they can get against the evil "conventional" corporations. Because they never make mistakes, this means that they can market their products directly without any study and let their guinea pigs customers experiment on themselves and their children.

Encourage parents to think of their children as their property, so that they can justify trying anything on their sick child under any circumstances, especially if there's no reporting or control group.


I don't know about you, but I'm leaning towards plan #1.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Doggerel #219: "I Did My Own Research!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

The information age allows people incredible access to scientific data and exchange of information. Unfortunately, it also allows incredible access to urban legends and crazed rants that would normally be relegated to badly copied manifestos handed out on the street.

What separates real research from from what the typical woo does is discrimination: You have to know what forms of evidence are more reliable than others. A double-blind control study is superior to a case study, which is superior to an anecdote. A video recording is superior to human memory. Quality also matters more than quantity, most of the time. A thousand eyewitnesses are less objective than a handful of cameras.

Woo "research" typically involves collecting anecdotes, a form of cherry-picking. In alternative medicine, for example, positive outcomes for an alleged remedy are popularized, but, because of the culture, negative outcomes are generally ignored, usually leading to the patient to quietly change remedies. The result is a large collection of isolated positive anecdotes divorced from the larger context of the world.

Real research has to look at large numbers. With small groups, and worse, individual test subjects, there is little ability to rule out coincidences. Scientific studies require large numbers of subjects or trials because large numbers make coincidence less likely of an explanation. Most people simply have trouble thinking about the large numbers involved in the world, and how millions of people experiencing the world over many years can produce all sorts of "unlikely" events. We use the scientific method because of such shortcomings in our thinking.

Another form of false research comes in the form of blindly trusting people with fancy degrees or even Nobel Prizes. Being a scientist, earning a degree, or being awarded a prestigious prize is not a certification of papal infallibility. Scientists are people. People can make mistakes. Working in a manner that minimizes the chance of mistakes is what makes your conclusions more likely to be accurate. It doesn't matter who you are. High quality work is high quality work. Knowing how to distinguish real science from anecdote and hearsay is what separates a researcher from just another student of Google University.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pointless Question #78

Why is it that whenever a building or other large structure collapses, it usually does so in a way that allows a hero access to the next location for his quest?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bombs Away!

My brother's been feeling creative lately, so I'm plugging his latest creation:



Pop over and vote it up if you like.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Little Story

I was walking along the beach one day when I spotted a pair of strange creatures lying on the sand. One was covered in brilliant pink fluff. It had two legs and strange flattened arms without fingers. The other looked similar in shape, but without legs, and it was instead covered in strangely smooth red skin. I first approached the pink fluffy one. It seemed like a normal animal in most ways: It had two eyes, a mouth, nostrils. It hopped around a little, and made a high jump, flapping its arms to push itself up the last few inches. I got closer and even held it in my hands without it protesting beyond a few nips with its pointy mouth, almost as if it didn't know to be afraid of me. The other lay motionless, apparently dead.

I took a closer look over the pink fluffy one, lifting up its flat arm, looking at how it was shaped. It seemed good for meat, so I killed it, cooked it, and ate it. I pieced together the bones and noticed some tiny little bumps at the ends of the arm, almost like little fingers that hadn't fully grown. The bone seemed normal enough, though hollow. The meat tasted good, but not terribly exotic.

After that, I took the smooth red creature and examined it closely. It had an appearance similar to the pink creature, but only on a superficial level: It had a pair of eyes, but they were more like decoration, as if someone carved and painted them out of whatever this material was. There was even a straight line down the length of its body, like two halves joined together imperfectly. There were even strange geometric marks on its belly, lined up in a perfect circle. On its back was a strange white knobby protrusion. I gently pulled at it and ended up twisting it, hearing little clicks underneath the skin. When I let go, the creature sprang to life, flapping its arms a few times. I dropped it and watched as its flapping slowed to a halt. I picked it up again, turned the knob several more times and threw the creature forward. It flew through the air for a while before losing its strength and fell to the ground.

I retrieved the creature and gently cut open its belly with my knife. There was nothing familiar inside. No blood, no entrails, just strange, smooth objects made of the same material as the knob. There were some spiral-shaped pieces of a shiny material, and white wheels with little teeth that would lock together. I winded the knob and watched the wheels turn. The teeth at the end of one wheel would push another into turning. I also noticed the shiny spirals get pressed tighter when I turned the knob and loosen as the wheels turned and the creature flapped. I even pulled out some of these parts and found that the creature could flap its arms once they were put back. It was the strangest experience I ever had.

I thought about these strange creatures for a while and came to some conclusions:

The pink fluffy creature was most likely a natural animal. It had a mouth, real eyes, bones, flesh, and all the internal organs of other animals. All of these parts were made of materials other animals already grow in their bodies. It probably came into being like other animals, when its parents mated, made a home, and raised it. It most likely needed to fly, to eat, to drink, and to find a mate to keep making more of its kind. It also probably needed to think about how to do all of those things and instincts to drive it towards survival and producing young.

The red smooth creature was a toy made to look like an animal similar to the pink one. It had no legs, apparently no mind, no internal organs except those needed to make it fly. This simplicity of its design suggested it had a distinct purpose: To fly and look like a living animal when it did. Such a purpose implies a craftsman. Without a craftsman, a creature that can't eat can't produce a child. Even if it had a child, such a child would be unable to grow without an ability to take in food. Without a way to eat and make replacement material, if something damaged it, it had no apparent means of healing itself, save a person making an identical part and replacing it. The geometry of the parts was also suspiciously precise, with perfect circles, straight lines, and right angles. These things almost never showed up in nature, especially not at that level of precision. Nature and life are complex, messy processes, with all sorts of forces working against or with one another. Simplicity is a sign of design. Simplicity implies an understanding of the forces of nature and the ability to isolate or control them to form such unnatural shapes.

I gathered a few supplies and put them in my boat, rowing in the direction I guessed the animals came from. Eventually, I came across a forested island filled with many animals like the pink fluffy one, only with a dazzling variety of color combinations. I walked around, noticing some smaller varieties of these creatures would fly away when they saw me. Some larger ones, about the size of the pink fluffy one did not. Some even cawed, squawked, and otherwise looked to challenge my presence. I killed a few of those for lunch and dinner.

I found a nest of twigs made by two of these creatures will small, undeveloped babies begging for food. The parents were red and white, but the babies' think fluff was pink. In another nest with two pink parents, the babies were varied: Red, pink, and white. After some thought, it occurred to me that the babies inherited part of their color from either parent. A red and a white would only produce pink offspring, but two pinks could pass down a discrete "red" or the "white" part of themselves and produce any combination from the result. Children often looked like they had some parts of both parents, but this made the heredity for one factor more obvious. If someone were to try to breed only pink creatures, they could never eliminate the tendency for red or white to show up, since, if heredity was discrete like I suspected, you couldn't blend the red and white by mating alone.

Also noteworthy was a nest with a violet baby. I could only speculate at this point, but it seems reasonable to suspect something went wrong when the parent's color was copied into the baby, producing a new color that might just stand out a little more in their mating dances. Or repel the opposite sex. Or it could do nothing. Such changes, even if they are random could, with the right circumstances, provide an advantage. Little 'mistakes' now and then could do something better in an unexpected way. If the mistake ended up being a disadvantage, no long term harm would be done to the creatures, since the unfortunate creature would be more likely to die before passing on that disadvantage. Even if it did pass it on once or twice, the struggle for survival would still make it difficult for those offspring.

There were many other possibilities for how that baby was born with violet fluff, but for now, I moved on.

My thoughts turned towards the larger territorial variety. Until I arrived, they were the largest creatures on the island. It's possible that being alone on this island, there was no benefit to keeping an instinct for running away from much larger creatures. But if circumstances changed and my tribe moved over here for hunting, the fearless ones would likely die out. Those who retained the instinct to fear large creatures would be more likely to escape a hunt and live to produce children. Not long after such a move, nearly all of them would have the instinctive fear. For the smaller ones, that would be less of a change, since they already deal with creatures larger than themselves. In fact, they could come to dominate, since smaller, more nimble targets would be harder to catch.

I felt my conclusion about the pink fluffy creature was quite secure: I saw others similar to it finding mates, raising young, and otherwise engaged in the struggle to raise the next generation. They were just like other animals, even if they had some odd features. I still needed to find out more about the smooth red creature, though.

I traveled further in my boat, eventually seeing a sandbar with a large wooden box on it. I broke off a side and found a number of smaller boxes made with a stiff sort of hemp-like material. They were painted with pictures similar to the smooth red creature, though in five different colors. Inside each one was a copy of mine, aside from the color. I examined each closely and found the similarity among the members disturbing. The only difference between the creatures were signs of tool working: They all had a seam down their length, joined quite precisely, though not perfectly. There was almost no variety in color, all of them entrenched in the five base colors with the exact same highlights and contrasts.

This convinced me further that these smooth creatures were crafted by intelligent beings like myself. They were simple. They did one task very well and little else, suggesting they were created for that specific purpose and nothing else. They showed signs of the tools used to create them. Other people craft images of living beings, and if my people had the knowledge of this one's inner workings, would create similar moving contraptions for our children as toys.

In short, these artifacts were the opposite of living things. When an animal creates its young, there is no sign of a guiding intelligence shaping or planning the offspring, only the parents being together and letting nature take its course. For unintelligent life, the struggle to perform this act is, unfortunately, quite merciless. To survive and sire young, a living thing needs to perform countless tasks. Those creatures that can perform all those tasks produce more like them, while those who can't die off. There is no purpose or intent behind this, just a simple, logical truth. We, as intelligent beings, create purpose and use what we can to accomplish our goals. This ability exists primarily because it has the effect of making us able to devise and pass on new ways to survive and prosper. The feeling of empowerment that comes from creating art, culture, and seeking new forms of understanding is a side effect we can enjoy.

An artifact created for a specific purpose is not restricted by the demands of life: It can be created, used, and discarded. It only needs to perform its specific purpose. If another is needed, the craftsman can just make a new one. For this reason, a tool can afford to 'die.' It has no inherent need to survive or reproduce itself.




Anyway, pretty well moved off the story and into an author tract. I can afford to, since it's my blog.

Of course, a lot of Creationists are going to miss the major points and speak as if I intended this one thing to be the end-all argument. This is just specifically addressing Paley's watch, replacing it with a mechanical bird alongside a real one. The problem that should have been glaring Paley and friends in the face: It's not complexity that defines design. Simplicity is often a better guide.

Another huge problem is that a watch and a living thing are very, very different. We already know about natural processes that can make new living things: Reproduction. This is a feature that watches and other human creations lack. Watches do not assemble new watches. The parts of a watch do not have any sort of self-organizing affinity. The chemicals that make up living beings do, however.

If you change this, and simulate watches that can reproduce with variation and are made of parts that have affinities, it's much easy to produce an accurate watch using evolution and a natural selection criteria that favors accurate timekeeping.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Faith is a Euphemism for Gambling

Qualia Soup and Theramin Trees said what I've taken to be the core of this idea pretty well in one of their videos.


Faith is equivalent to going to a casino, heading to a roulette table with an infinite number of numbers on the wheel, and betting on one based on a hunch. Probabilities are not considered, since one over an immeasurably large number is quite small. Books, relics, and so forth fill in the role of the "lucky" rabbit's foot.

The compulsive gamblers resent any effort to convince them to cut their losses. They even consider it a virtue to keep riding a losing streak, since they labor under the delusion that the laws of probability will bend to serve them and reward them for their stubbornness. This arrogance is encouraged to prevent change: Saying that you were wrong takes humility and courage. To a man of faith, these traits are signs of weakness. Humility cannot reside in a person who has delusions of perfection. To be humble is to acknowledge imperfection.

Science, on the other hand, is equivalent to getting a job at a stable company and doing hard, honest work in hopes of a paycheck. If the company goes bankrupt, you leave and apply for a job at a place that addresses the problems the previous one didn't.

Science plays for the best odds and knows there are no "sure things" in life: 99.9% odds means that there's a 0.1% chance you could be wrong. The fact that science-minded people know that they could be wrong means that they're willing to change if they find out they were mistaken. Humility is considered a strength because it acknowledges the need for change and improvement.

We all take on risks in this uncertain world. Science acknowledges our imperfections and works hard to minimize the dangers they pose. Science acknowledges that the universe is not limited to our self-serving imagination.

Faith is gambling on the "perfection" of your hunches. Faith is gambling on the arrogant belief that the universe is incapable of being beyond your imagination.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pointless Question #77

Do the superhero teams in Atlantis always have one pathetic guy with land-based powers?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dwarf Fortress Thread

I'm still new to Dwarf Fortress, but I suppose everyone's a little bit newer with the 2010 version still fresh. Like many players, I have big dreams. In my case, I'm thinking of building some giant clear glass hourglasses. The primary hindrance I face is not being sure how to get everything up and running. So, I'm trying to get some solid advice.

Location, location, location:

As much as I'd like to have those hourglasses standing in a nice flat, sandy desert, that'd probably be too much of a challenge for a beginner like me: Clear glass need pearlash, which needs wood. Unless I get lucky and find a desert adjacent to a forest (or a cavern where I can grow tower caps), I'd be in short supply. A sandy marsh might be better for that.

Rivers: Do I really need one? An everlasting supply of water would be nice, since you have to muddy underground farms now. Rain's probably another option if I can make some sort of collection spot.

Magma: The new version is supposed to have magma pools everywhere if you just dig deep enough. Since you can't search for magma pipes anymore, I'd need a bit of luck for mass production of obsidian, if I felt like making the mega hourglass out of volcanic glass.


Starting Dorfs:

I'm still not sure what starting skills I should go for. I read one suggestion now removed from the DFwiki that involved a Leader with all the doctor skills, who'd quietly build up his mining skill until he's needed at the hospital or trade depot. I also wonder if I should start with a proficient glassmaker who gets to work once I get a magma kiln.

Here's something of a first draft:
1) Medic Leader: One point in all the medical skills, with appraise, negotiator, and judge of intent. Spends the rest of his time as a secondary miner.

2) Outdoorsman: Woodcutter, Herbalist, Axeman, maybe hunter.

3) Farmer/Cook/Brewer

4) Mason/Stone Crafter/Building Designer

5) Carpenter/Glassmaker

6) Mechanic/Weaponsmith/Armorsmith

7) Miner/?


Early Building:

I'm still trying to figure out everything I'll need early on.
1. Food storage: Get everything out of the wagon so it won't rot in the wagon and that my dwarves won't need to go outside for a bite to eat.
2. Wood/Stone/Furniture storage: Keep supplies near the workshops.
3. First farm: Can muddy an area by digging into the side of a murky pool.
4. Workshops: Carpenter, Mason, Still, Kitchen, Craftsdwarf shop, Butcher shop, Leatherworks. For the latter two, I could use some advice on how to make sure my hunters don't leave their catch to just rot.
5. Barracks: Dwarves have to sleep. I neglected one on my last game, jumping a bit too directly to individual rooms.
6. Meeting room: Outside the main entrance, so that my dogs will gather there and spot thieves.


Magma workshops:

I plan to dig down until I reach magma so that I can build a workshop level with all the magma-powered sorts. Since I don't want to be overrun by fire imps and the like, I'd appreciate suggestions on how to safely go about this. One idea is to build an exploratory vertical shaft that I can block off with a locked door. Once I know what level the magma's at, I can build workshops with imp-blocking grates in the floor.


Lesser dreams:

Greenhouses: Some farms for above ground crops covered by green glass ceilings, safely below the surface.

Guard towers: Shaped like hourglasses, for the overall aesthetic.

A road paved with glass.

An overly organized 'garden' sort of look for the entire surface of my area. More "rock garden" than lines of trees or hedge mazes.


The big dreams:

Hourglass Megastructure: I'm still trying to think about the shape of my hourglass tower(s), since round isn't the easiest thing to do. The first idea is probably the simplest: A pyramid with an inverted pyramid on top. The other is similar, though with some straight vertical sections. I'd like some ideas for what to fill them with. Probably include some wood bases for the top and bottom.

Raised River: A six-tile wide river on a raised platform. The supports will be smaller versions of the hourglass tower, possibly doubling as guard towers. If I get a magma pipe, I may try another of magma that ends up forming obsidian where the two meet. I could probably use some help figuring out how to handle the pumps to get the water up there.


So, chime in with whatever.

Monday, April 19, 2010

This Isn't About Religion

Imagine there's an organization that gives children something to do after school, like sports, games, school tutoring, and so on, so that they'll be in a safe place until their parents come home. Imagine one of the staff ends up raping one of the youths, and when the higher-ups hear about it, they start trying to cover it up and move the offending member to another district where no one knows about the incident. Imagine that they've been doing this sort of thing for decades in an effort to maintain their good reputation. Imagine that they've been caught. They belittle the crime as "gossip" or a coordinated attack by one of their competitors.

Would you consider it wrong to investigate the cover up, even if it leads all the way to the head of the organization?

Now change the organization to the Roman Catholic Church, and the head of the organization to the Pope. Suddenly, what should be absolutely clear to anyone with even a vestigial sense of morality gets muddled with people claiming that the organization is above mortal law, or that the organization's reputation is more important than preventing rape.

I only want some rapists and their co-conspirators brought to justice. There is no religion involved in that sentiment. It is the religious anarchists who want their group to be above the law who bring religion into it. They want the governments of the world to be accommodating and deferential to their group. They want special privileges. They don't want equal enforcement of the law. They want all this because their religion says their leaders can do whatever they want: The only restriction is whether or not they need to cover it up to maintain a facade of morality.

Religion deserves absolutely no special privileges. Everyone must be equally subject to the law.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pointless Question #76

What if the Transformers landed on Earth in the 12th century, instead of the 20th or 21st?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Springtime for Charlatans

Neurologica has this post up. Alties never cease to disgust me in the ways they slime their way past basic ethics.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Fundamental Problem

Woos aren't aware of it. They don't know why we accept or reject various ideas. All they know is that we're often on the opposite side of the debate. They'll make up stories about how we weren't hugged enough as kids, how we were "hurt" by some member of their group, indoctrinated into a nonexistent philosophy, just want to be nasty, or whatever Hollywood narrative they like. They do this because they don't know how we think.

That's why so many woo trolls are unable to speak with us as people. They're ignorant of what it means to be a critical thinker, and often willfully so when they refuse to listen to our points. They can't attack our actual beliefs because they're unwilling to learn them. That's why they resort to straw men, ad hominem fallacies, repetitive propaganda, and defense mechanisms. Their unwillingness to listen to us serves to compound the problem.

By the same token, many, many trolls have an unwillingness to commit to or even speak of any claims. I've had countless arguments where my fellow skeptics and I repeat various demands for clarification on the beliefs in question, only to get stalling tactics and intentional vagueness, followed by another volley of ineffective attacks.

The bottom line: Most woos who engage in trolling are poor communicators and don't care if they are. They don't care what we actually believe. They don't care about defending their beliefs. They only want to beat up figments of their imagination.

At least we can try to have fun seeing if they'll actually react to something they don't expect. Half the time, I search for weird angles of attack in hopes of inspiring a Work Time Fun response.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Quote of the Time Being #26

This one's a comment posted by thalesc on Neurologica.

Being a software engineer who works on large projects I find quite amusing how creationists look at a living thing and conclude it’s too complex to have evolved, therefore it must have been designed in a similar way to how humans design technological artifacts – intelligently, that is.

Clearly these people have never designed anything of significance in their lives – and no, putting together a display for the Creation Museum does not count.

If they had, they’d realize that the process of designing complex things intelligently looks a lot more like Evolution than the clean, purely top-down idealization of a guy that sits at a desk and draws the complete plans for something anew out of pure inspiration. On the contrary, design is a dirty process that involves a lot of experimentation, discovery, creativity (i.e., randomization), refinement and selection.

For instance, humans didn’t come up with today’s modern computers in a single try. If we look at the history of the computer we’ll see a progression from simplicity to complexity where each new machine was built on previous successful technology. More importantly, we’ll see lots of failures that were quickly discarded, and even more failures that never saw the light of the day. Of course if we look only at the successes we may get the wrong impression of intentionality and predictability. However, if we look at the failures too we’ll see a different picture, we’ll see that the technological progress is quite random and unpredictable, and that it happens mostly through the selection of the random ideas that worked.

Some people can’t see how one can arrive at functional complexity through evolution. I have quite the opposite feeling, I can’t see how one can get there otherwise.

The Historian's Fallacy and Conspiracy Nuts

I've had to deal with a certain phenomenon with conspiracy nuts: When asked for evidence of a conspiracy, they start citing who benefited from the central event. The problem with this, of course, is that benefit does not prove that the person in question planned it. Hindsight is 20/20, but our past selves do not benefit from it. Neither do previous generations.

For one example of the fallacy, many 9/11 twoofers point out how much the Bush administration was able to expand their power and influence after the attack. To someone who thinks governments have a supernatural prescience, this is incriminating evidence. To a more sensible person, this is easily explainable by opportunism, rather than an elaborate conspiracy: They didn't plan it, but they were able to take advantage of it anyway.

People are people, and only have access to certain fields of knowledge. In war history, this is the fog of war: Decision makers don't have instant access to all the relevant information. It could be anything from enemy disinformation to accidentally skipping over a critical bit of a report. Some intelligence agencies prefer not to share information, preventing it from getting to the relevant people in time. This tendency was one of the reasons for the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency in the US. Of course, even with this, government secrets still run the risk of remaining secret to the non-CIA portions of the government.

Large organizations are made up of small parts, namely people, and their means of communication. All too often, conspiracy theorists are unwilling to even think about the difficulties involved in running them. Just because certain information is readily available today does not mean that it was always so. Confusion is, and always has been a part of civilization.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Logic is a Wreath of Pretty Flowers That Smell Bad

Or so many woos try to argue. It's quite common when I deal with various trolls that they'll argue how "telling" it is when I point out a logical fallacy they committed. I've heard it pretty often with Creationists and the ad hominem fallacy: Rather than argue about the science, they'll make some accusation about a skeptic's or a scientist's sexual orientation, racism, or whatever, as if that somehow changes the color of a fruit fly's eyes or the constant radioactive half-life of a particular isotope.

I haven't performed any extensive sampling, but it seems to me that the vast bulk of logical fallacies are types of subject changes. Red herrings. A subtype of the non-sequitur. My being an atheist, for example, doesn't change the fact that multiple lines of converging evidence agree on a single phylogenetic tree. The fact that I own D&D books does not falsify the fact that the Big Bang theory accurately predicted the cosmic microwave background radiation before it was measured. Science, it works, bitches.

In the world of woo, it seems, emotion matters infinitely more than truth. Self-esteem matters more than learning. Certainty matters more than honesty. It reminds me of several episodes of the original Star Trek where Kirk and crew blew up "logical" computers and androids by behaving oddly. The only difference is that they're going for the tiniest expression of frustration, as if it's impossible to be logical and emotional at the same time. Being right and being stoic are completely unrelated things.

Of course, since most woos never pause to understand what logic actually is, they declare victory, even if they only contributed gibberish, contradictions, and transparent subject changes to the discussion. Science doesn't care about how you express your ideas, only if they're logically sound, and proving that often takes work. Woo and faith, however, only exist to prop up the believer's self-esteem or to make laziness self-justifying.

Sent By My Brother

Psychic Drawing Fail.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Woo Enthymemes #7: "My Imagination is Superior!"

This particular entry was inspired in part by Chopra Fan, Rachael Good, who vomited up a great deal of hate on Skeptico.

As was pointed out later in that comment thread, woos often act as if they have a monopoly on imagination. As if it's impossible to be scientifically minded and have imagination. The problem with this, of course, is that imagination was required to come up with all the theories we take for granted, and still is needed to make advances in the various fields.

In my view, the whole act is a temper tantrum: Their imagination was wrong, therefore they have the right to shit all over everything their opponents have done. That's what woo is often about, after all. Hell, whenever a skeptic imagines a non-supernatural explanation for something, they lash out against the very notion of creativity. They think creativity is destructive because it expands outside their tiny, gray box.

Creativity shouldn't be contained by preexisting ideology. Ideas should be treated fairly: Those with merit, those that agree with the evidence and make new predictions should be held in higher regard. Those that contradict the evidence or fail to say anything useful should be dismissed until they can correct those failings. The marketplace of ideas is supposed to be a meritocracy, and science is the best method we have for determining an idea's merit.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Bioshock and Quackery

Last night, I started watching a Let's Play of Bioshock. For those who don't know much about the game, I think I can say this much without spoiling the plot: The game takes place in an underwater city that was intended to be some sort of Objectivist paradise.

There, scientists weren't 'burdened' by ethics and developed some DNA modifying chemicals to give people superpowers like telekinesis or the ability to shoot bolts of electricity from their hands. Unfortunately, the scientists responsible apparently bought into 'greed is good, altruism is evil' rhetoric, and didn't bother with extensive safety tests. As a result, the city is now crawling with insane people swinging around monkey wrenches and climbing the walls with hooks and mad Science!-enhanced agility.

The city's leader response to the growing insanity? "Yes, people have died, yes, people have gone insane, but we can't abandon our ideals when they're being tested. The market is patient, and we must be patient, too."

This reminds me of all too many quacks I've heard from: "If it was dangerous/useless, people wouldn't buy it!" One of the biggest problems the caveat emptor philosophy has is the need for everyone to be an expert in whatever field is relevant to their purchase. The problem isn't quite so bad with simple purchases, but when it comes to our health, we shouldn't all have to be doctors to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a product. Contrary to what quacks will tell you, you are not born with innate expertise in your own body. The human body is a complex and intricate thing that was pretty much built to last a few decades. It's because people sought a deeper understanding than superficial pain/pleasure responses that we've been able to take 70+ years for granted.

Many people also tend to be poor at risk assessment. Someone who goes on a beach vacation might be more worried about getting attacked by sharks than about the much higher risk of getting into a car accident on the way. Anti-vaxxers, for example, are more afraid of the infinitesimal risk of exposure to trace amounts of everyday chemicals in the vaccines than the much higher risk of death by the diseases they prevent.

My conclusion: This sort of extreme capitalism, like Communism, could only work if the world was already perfect, full of well-educated, rational people. We need regulatory bodies made of experts to keep our food and medicine safe and effective.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Explaining Fantasy

I've been busy with meatspace lately, so I don't remember if I've said something about this before, but I figure it's worth drilling home. In science, most people understandably focus on how theories are supposed to predict and explain the facts that we observe. I, however, feel the need to point out the opposite side of that: A theory also needs to explain why certain things are not seen. It's been said that "a theory that can explain anything explains nothing," and it's my intention to give the reason for that saying.

Let's use the familiar comparison between evolution and Creationism. Evolution has constraints: A generation can only build on or modify what it inherited from its ancestors. Evolution tells us that Crocoducks are absurdly unlikely: Birds evolved from bipedal dinosaurs, a different branch of the tree of life from crocodiles. A Crocoduck would be analogous to (but much more extreme than) a couple siring a distant cousin's child. For that reason, the discovery of a Crocoduck (barring origin by mad science) would completely dismantle everything we know about genetics and evolution.

Creationism, however, can perfectly explain a Crocoduck: God can do whatever he wants, and for some incomprehensible reason was in the mood to slap two very different species together. There is no mechanism of action to limit what God's tools can do. Thus the Crocoduck is explained by Creationism.

Of course, the problem this presents for Creationism is that there are no Crocoducks. There are no lion-eagle hybrids with a six limb body plan. There are no cloven-hooved horses with spiral horns or lion tails. Creationism is useless because it can be used to predict anything, including all the things that will never happen. Creationists have no method for sorting out true predictions from the infinity of fantasy predictions. They can only point out certain "predictions" after the fact has been observed. That, in a nutshell, is why Creationism's unfalsifiability makes it useless.

Often, I call Creationism "The Random Theory of Randomness." If you think in terms of a dice experiment, I think it's quite apt: If you roll a die a million times and get all sixes, it's perfectly reasonable to think the die is weighted in a manner to come up six. That theory has a comparatively narrow set of predictions: If you keep rolling the die, you will get mostly sixes. The theory of randomness, that the die roll just happened to come up all sixes by chance alone, predicts any outcome pretty much equally.

If you rolled the die some more and get a roughly equal tally of all six numbers, that would cast heavy doubt about the die being weighted. If you continued to roll sixes, it would support the weighting theory, but the randomness advocates could just as readily claim that it's possible random chance still favors sixes. Of course, I would think any reasonable person would bank on the weighting theory.

The Ban List

It currently has one member: Gabriel. (WOMI was removed last time I changed the comment policy. He originally got on for doing a similar repetition act Gabe's doing now, only he was a Creationist.) The reason for his banning is essentially groaning boredom on the part of some of my readers, and I can't blame them: Gabriel hasn't learned anything about what we actually believe, and thus it's become pointless to read his repetition of straw men, ad hominem fallacies (why the hell does he think this is about penis passport dueling with some random guy on the internet?)

So, Gabriel, included below are a few ways you can get yourself unbanned by submitting comments:

1. Post a criticism of my actual views on the topic of race. There's no shortage of my commentary in the various threads for you to read.
2. Define what you mean by "race," "white," and "black." Are they based on genetics in any way?
3. A link and/or citation of a study showing some sort of meaningful neurological differences between people of different races.

Anything else is subject to rejection. If you had any idea of what skepticism and science really are, you'd understand why you've been failing so hard. Try doing something different and interesting for a change. It's been fun seeing you flail about in a useless and predictable manner, but I think it's time to move on if you can't show me something unexpected.

Once a week, I may drop a comment in this thread summarizing what Gabe tries. I predict it'll just be a stream of redundancy, and we don't need space wasted on stuff we've already been over multiple times.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Okay, Wow.

Seems Blogger hasn't been informing me of moderated comments from old threads. Got 21 listed. Get ready for a flood of pent up Gabriel.

Another Game Ping

Recently picked up a game on PSN called Greed Corp. It's a turn-based strategy game my brother and I are enjoying. Anyone interested in a few rounds with us?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Setting Up For a Letdown

I like the movie, Pulp Fiction, but there's one thing I can think of that would improve it. For the two or three of you who haven't seen it, one of the MacGuffins is a briefcase that contains something unrevealed, and shines orange light onto the people who look inside. The improvement I have in mind: They should have left the lightbulb out of the briefcase.

Without the lightbulb, we could interpret the briefcase's contents as "anything." With the lightbulb, our choices narrow down quite rapidly to little more than "something most people would call supernatural." One of the resulting dominant theories I've heard seems a little too obvious: Marcellus Wallace's soul, thus the 'miracle' that saved Travolta and Jackson's characters was God intervening to make sure they save his soul.

It feels too restrictive to me. And I think that feeling carries over to real life science mysteries: Woos so often seem to love restricting the answer to what our limited imaginations can come up with. Science is liberating because reality isn't restricted to our imaginations. How does consciousness operate? The answer of "the soul" is restrictive and unsatisfying. Many soul hypotheses are little more than the process of ad hocking away the evidence, instead of making predictions and daring to risk being wrong. Being wrong is not something to be ashamed of in science. Every experiment scientists conduct is an act of bravery and humility: The results may not be to your liking because the universe does not exist to conform to your desires. Every scientifically-minded person knows that, and welcomes the opportunity to be surprised.

Some Problems With the Apologetics Gods

Currently watching the Atheism Tapes on Netflix streaming, and felt something I needed to express: The various absurd gods Apologists want us to believe in.

The random god: Quite often, I've seen people define their god as being unpredictable in principle. The problem with this is that it makes it random: Science is very good for detecting patterns and making predictions. The only thing that should be unpredictable in principle would be something truly, truly random.

The impotent god: Another alternative depends on defining god as undetectable, which leads to the question of "how can he do anything at all?" We can't detect gravity directly, but we sure can detect (and predict) its influence on objects. Science is the best tool we have for understanding the invisible. It's done that for so many forces before. What makes the god force fundamentally different?

The arbitrary god: Often shows up with divine command theorists. They posit a baseless god as the foundation of morality: God exists without any previous basis, but for some reason is super-special-awesome to be the sole privileged entity to dictate morality. He has no previous basis to found his decisions on, and no reason to have this authority. Close relative to the random god.

Friday, February 12, 2010

SIWOTI!

I've got a real case of it concerning a member of the Mercury Militia over on one of Akusai's videos.

I've worked up a nice sweat dealing with that troll. I need to take a shower.

Monday, February 08, 2010

A Substance Almost, But Not Quite, Entirely Unlike Tea

I've been following a troll by the name of Young Apologist who showed up at Skeptico, recently. Mostly, I've been quiet while the others dissect his nonsense line-by-line. He ended up repeating one tired old thing about how you can't use material description to talk about "immaterial" objects like souls and such. And that gets to the title of this post.

Like so many other dualists, he's essentially trying to describe something, not by what properties it has or what it does, but by what it's not. Of course, that leaves him with an infinite amount of room to move goalposts.

In science, you have to define what you're talking about in a meaningful manner. You do this so that you have testable predictions: What will you see when you examine the subject? What will happen when you do X to the subject? If those predictions are wrong, then you can admit you're wrong. Faith works the opposite way: "I am infallible" is the underlying basis of faith. Laying out definitions for the things they have faith in can only create opportunities for them to be demonstrated as wrong.

That's why they use nonsense words like "supernatural" to avoid defining their terms. Of course, this has a nasty habit of removing evidence from the process. If there's no evidence, no predictions, or anything like that, how do they know? The typical response I get boils down to reassertion of their superiority: They can know the unknowable because they said so.

It's really pathetic.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Belated Link

I meant to link to this bit of Tom Foss ownage earlier, but better late than never.

129th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at the SkeptVet's Blog.

Open thread as usual, except taking me there is FORBIDDEN!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

AC Ping!

Just thought I'd see again if any of my readers play Armored Core. I've got For Answer on my PS3, and tweaked Aria to be more competitive with humans. That includes a fair increase in speed.

Had a good series of matches this morning where I ended up being the guy on the ground taking cover from a flying opponent. Normally, I'm the eye in the sky.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mystery

I try to go artsy-fartsy. Fair Warning: Poetry, including free form, was always my worst subject in English. And now that I've typed it all, it shows.

A mystery is a wonderful surprise waiting to happen...

A mystery is for everyone's enjoyment. No one can claim ownership of a mystery.

A mystery shines bright when the world shares their awe and confusion.

A mystery blooms into its greatest beauty when someone solves it.

A mystery only brings wonder when it comes with the promise of an answer.

A mystery's answer is always beautiful, whether simple and elegant or intricate and detailed.

A mystery must always be free and in the open, no matter who fears what the answer might be.

A skeptic accepts the solution to a mystery, for the answer always leads to more mysteries to solve.

A skeptic does not lock mysteries in a vault like a fragile, useless bauble.

A skeptic nurtures openness and inquiry, so that both mystery and insight can thrive under the sun.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Quote of the Time Being #25

It's a long comment over at Orac's place by Antaeus Feldspar.

Pure ownage of a straw man factory who showed up in the thread.

Meme Discussion: Bubble Boys?

Contrary to their typical rhetoric, many altie "detox" ideas and toxin scares seem to run on the idea that the human body isn't able to heal itself. This, of course, means that you need to buy all their books, supplements, etcetera, so that you can do the right ritual to purify your body, instead of leaving it up to useless vestigial organs like the liver and kidneys, which serve no discernible function.

I'm thinking about using the term "bubble boys and girls" to describe those sorts.

The first argument I can think of against the use is that it can be considered insensitive to those people who have genuine problems with their immune system and need to remain in sterilized environments. The reason I propose the term is that many of the alties I am referring to, if they took their policy about risk to its logical end, would need to isolate themselves from the environment: They worry about trace amounts of mercury compounds, but rarely see anything wrong with eating fish. They worry about 1 in 1,000,000 risks of vaccination, but not about the deadly diseases they're made to prevent. They worry about unspecified, unknown risks of anything remotely new (even after it's been safety tested for years or even decades), but accept old, well-known risks of everyday behavior without batting an eye.

It's not a perfect fit, but I think it should be emphasized that many alties would indeed need to completely isolate themselves from the world to meet their arbitrarily high standards, hence it'd be appropriate to exaggerate just how fragile they think humans are, and the ridiculous extremes they'd require if they applied their risk aversion uniformly. Of course, I don't mean to use the label as literal truth, but as a semi-comedic exaggeration to hurl at them in hopes that it will wake them from their intellectual torpor, even if only for a moment.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Netflixing Science

I've been needing something equivalent to my earlier doses of the good Discovery and History channel shows, so I've been perusing the Historical and Science subcategories of Documentaries. Decided it'd be appropriate to one-star all the supernatural, conspiratorial, and alien-friendly shows. The ratings are supposed to be relative to the user, so I would like to get any of the crazy crap out of future recommendations.

You'll probably be glad to know that Expelled already had less than 1 1/2 stars (1 star minimum) before I put my vote in.

Wish they had The Critical Eye. The first episode that I saw was what introduced me to homeopathy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Science and Humility

I often like to say that science is a process of enforced humility when I compare it to the arrogance so often inherent in woo.

Science requires everyone to consider the possibility that they could be wrong. When a scientist proposes a hypothesis, he has to include an escape hatch, just in case it turns out to be a bad idea: They have to know something that could potentially prove the hypothesis wrong, whether it's in the form of a prediction that turns out wrong, or evidence against its premises.

These things must be acknowledged. That's why scientific papers tend to have an experiment's limitations openly described. That's why we have the peer review process to weed out possible errors, why experiments must be independently replicated when possible, and so on and so on and so on. By being honest about our ability to screw up, we avoid much of the trouble that comes from designating individuals as infallible gurus or prophets. It's not who you are that makes you a scientist or and "authority," but what the evidence says. There is no room in science for a cult of personality.

Of course, it's quite well known among us scientifically-minded individuals that publishing in a science journal is not for the faint of heart. Putting your work on the line, open to criticism is not easy, especially if you made a mistake. This is normal, and how science should be. All too often, I hear whines from milquetoast woos who complain about how they aren't given any special exemption from criticism, and how their ideas are so fragile that they need to be shielded from open discussion. It sickens me. Science may be harsh, but it's supposed to be fair: No one gets a free pass. No idea is above criticism. That's how science has gotten to where it is today: By knocking down all the weak ideas, the accurate theories stand out and prosper.