Saturday, December 30, 2017

The pattern: from Jim Crow to Smog, Tobacco, Ozone, Leaded Gas... and now...

First: I am told I should announce: “Just so you know: there are no 3rd party ads on my site. No guest posts. No one can buy a slot or a referral. I try always to attribute quotations, especially lengthy excerpts. And yes, I write this much. Phew.”

Meanwhile... alas... there is so much that's "political" that mass media doesn't cover well. That's why you come here, right?

== Step back and see the "always wrong" obstructionist pattern ==

In 1987, 197 countries signed the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to stop releasing chemicals that were eating away at our planet’s ozone layer. And now, in a rare scientific triumph, the hole in the ozone layer has just about returned to the size it was at the time of the protocol’s signing: at its peak size in September, NASA reported that the hole was about 7.6 million square miles wide, the smallest it has been at peak since 1988.

As I pointed out, in EARTH (1989), we are capable of seeing problems, appraising them with intelligence and science, negotiating a mix of priorities, and then solving them. Contrary to the dogma of gloom spread today by the far-left and the entire-right.

Alas, this sapience is most often blocked by dogmatists and cheaters. As Jared Diamond reveals in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, a majority of past cultures hewed to rigid “traditional” hierarchies (most often feudal or theocratic) that made them brittle, unable to adapt to changing times. The great historian, Arnold Toynbee, surveyed hundreds of historical cultures and found that those with resilience were the ones who continued to invest both confidence and resources in their “creative minorities.”

We have plenty of examples in both directions. The same portions of society - in some cases the same people - who tried to block desegregation of the U.S. military, based on lies, then the ending of Jim Crow, also shouted “Cars don’t cause smog!” then “Tobacco is good for you!” then "dumping in streams and lakes is harmless!" then "Who needs oil well regulations?" and “the so-called Ozone collapse is a myth and those wanting to do something about it are commies who aim to destroy market capitalism!”

Let's zero in on one of those --

== Perfecting the methodology of delay-obstruction and outright murder ==

More than half a century ago, American media was saturated with tobacco advertising. Cigarettes were the most advertised product on TV and tobacco companies sponsored hundreds of shows. Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies return to prime-time television this weekend - forced to advertise the deadly, addictive effects of smoking, more than 11 years after a judge ruled that the companies had misled the public about the dangers of cigarettes. See Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes.

This is about more than Tobacco. The villainous shills who fought, obfuscated and delayed regulations to remove lead from gas and paint killed hundreds of thousands and were directly responsible for extending America’s worst era of crime. The very same ad agencies and law firms howled “hoax!” at scientific proof that cars caused smog, or that dumping into waterways caused lethal illness. They got their biggest contracts and refined their methods delaying any action about the tobacco plague.

Sometimes they fail quicker than others. The very same ad agencies and law firms used the same methods to delay action on the Ozone Hole, but this time humanity acted swiftly. Thirty years ago, the world signed that Montreal Protocol. Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) credits that agreement with for preventing an estimated 280 million additional cases of skin cancer, 45 million cataracts, and 1.5 million skin cancer deaths between its signing in 1987 and the year 2050. Without the Montreal Protocol, the planet would have been about 4 degrees warmer by 2050 (resulting in more extreme weather events like droughts, floods and hurricanes).

In all of those cases, it wasn’t so much “liberalism” that proved right, as that liberals paid attention to the evidence presented by science, which clearly showed that something needed to be done. Elsewhere I talk about my own role in one of these struggles… to get the lead out of gasoline. The delaying tactics that we fought down then caused immense human tragedy, till smart, sapient legislation finally made the poison go away. It resulted later in a steep plummet in the U.S. rate of crime. (New York now has its lowest rate since the 1950s.)

Today we have bald eagles again, because we limited DDT, and folks fish along sweet riverbanks in downtown Pittsburgh, and every species of whale still exists… all because we acted on warnings… and no communist hell descended.

Again: no… communist… hell… descended. Innovative enterprise markets boomed, and their only major enemy hasn't been "government regulation"... (though excess regulation can cloy!)... but old foes that our parents in the Greatest Generation knew well. Monopoly, duopoly, oligarchy and cheating.

No communist hell descended from any of these reforms... though there was a plague of amnesia, as our rightist neighbors forget they were wrong about every single one of those issues. Every single one.

== A perfected method... and not-quite perfect record being wrong ==

How many times must this happen before we see a relentless pattern? The same morons and cheaters forecast doom to the entire U.S. auto industry, if new efficiency standards were imposed, originally in the 1970s and upgraded in 2011. The actual result? Across the board improvement in our cars, which now have vastly higher quality in every category while actually dropping in adjusted price, compared to other costs of living, while saving consumers tens of billions at the pump.

Of course I’ve been dancing around the big one. Climate Change.  But we've talked about that, plenty. Here, we need to point out that the pattern is the same. The special interests and lobbyists and ad agencies are much the same, as are the messaging and delaying tactics.

After all of these examples, should the conservative position always be discredited?  

Nonsense! Criticism makes us better and sometimes a conservative assertion proves correct!  

Take the greatest mistake of modern U.S. liberalism, which hurt the movement grievously and helped re-ignite the confederacy across America, an insanity called desegregation by forced school busing. A lefty “innovation” of pyrotechnic stupidity in which it was the “reformers” who stubbornly ignored every bit of evidence that their position was pigheaded and wrong!

 Elsewhere I criticize some other liberal policies such as basing legal immigration on family reunions. Sounds nice. In fact it's evil. And don't get me started on liberal/democratic political stupidity!  But none of these exceptions fit a relentless pattern.

As you've seen, the relentless return of U.S. conservatism to hatefully anti-science error always turns out to have been bought and paid for by cynical oligarchs. Manipulators who are never brought into account for the countless lives their delaying tactics wrecked.

No, it is the process of denialism itself that merits our contempt and hatred. When conservatives stop this lunatic-dogmatic war on science and every other fact profession, then yes, I am sure they will have something to contribute to the national negotiations toward a better future. I want Goldwater types at the table!

But that will entail jettisoning... well... start with Clear Channel ravers. And Fox.

== Will the bubbles pop? ==

“The US stock market as a percentage of GDP is now far bigger than it was at the housing bubble’s peak, and it’s rapidly approaching the dot-com bubble peak. That ought to make us a little nervous as we watch the Dow hit new all-time highs.” Says John Mauldin.  I’m not saying it will pop tomorrow… nor does John. But just look at the chart. And note it was a month ago. The bubble is bigger now.

== The times demand it ==

Grad Students Would Be Hit By Massive Tax Hike Under House GOP Plan. The war on all fact professions - not just science - is thus made utterly explicit. Use stuff like this. Go after your uncle. Your obstinate friend. Above all, your aunt who doesn't dare speak when "he" is around, but who has a vote. As for student debt, ask if they have any justification for the Republican policy that student debts can never  be refinanced?

And yet. Can we try to be fair? Mocking Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his wife for posing with the first sheet of dollar bills with his signature on it? Seriously? And what would you do, if you had that honor. but pose with a first sheet, and buy it for the wall? Reflexive lefty twits! Choose… your… battles! There’s plenty to hate about these confederate plantation-lords. Control your rage and aim it at the unbearable real offenses, not harmless and natural stuff. You are supposed to be the sapient ones. All you accomplished, by shrieking at this, is making it harder to attract conservative defectors.

And finally...  In a book entitled “America Against America,” based on his travels in the U.S., Wang Huning, a top Chinese communist party ideologist just elevated to the seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo that rules the Middle Kingdom, “compares American democracy and elections to shareholders in a corporation. In theory, he observes, all shareholders have a say; in reality, minority shareholders control the company.”

Following China’s Confucian tradition, [Wang] also calls for moral education to raise the moral standards of the whole society and especially of officials who he believes must ‘internalize’ ethical behavior.”

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Things can get worse...

==  It can get lots worse than Trump ==

God's Plan for Mike Pence: This Atlantic article reminds us who and what is waiting on the wings, if Donald Trump leaves the scene - voluntarily or not. 

“Because God works in mysterious ways (or, at the very least, has a postmodern sense of humor), it was Donald J. Trump—gracer of Playboy covers, delighter of shock jocks, collector of mistresses—who descended from the mountaintop in the summer of 2016, GOP presidential nomination in hand, offering salvation to both Pence and the religious right. The question of whether they should wed themselves to such a man was not without its theological considerations. But after eight years of Barack Obama and a string of disorienting political defeats, conservative Christians were in retreat and out of options. So they placed their faith in Trump—and then, incredibly, he won.”

“Pence has so far showed absolute deference to the president—and as a result he has become one of the most influential figures in the White House, with a broad portfolio of responsibilities and an unprecedented level of autonomy. But for all his aw-shucks modesty, Pence is a man who believes heaven and Earth have conspired to place him a heartbeat—or an impeachment vote—away from the presidency.”

I have elsewhere explained why all this talk of Impeach Trump is positively loony. Trump is a known quantity who shoots himself in the foot, daily. Almost every grownup in the civil service, courts, military and intelligence services are alerted to the madness, if not horrified and ready to heroically throw themselves under a bus in order to cancel anything too crazy.

But read here what’s waiting in the wings. Picture the conservative-by-personality officers in the Army and FBI etc, overcome with relief when the soft-spoken Pence moves in, a relief he would exploit with pre-planned care. Replacing the Trump White House, which leaks like a sieve, would be an utterly disciplined and tight ship of Dominionists eager to end the world and bring on every horror described in the Book of Revelation. 

(They are quite open about wanting this... an end to all democracy, diversity, tolerance, ambition, competition, cooperation, endeavor... an end to all children... and an end to the United States of America, amid fire and hell for most of its citizens. This is what they openly avow that they seek. Ponder that. And ponder The Button.)

I go through a dozen reasons why this man would be ten times as dangerous as Trump. You Americans have fallen for so many confederate traps, already. When will you start being canny, assessing the situation calmly, and acting for the long term. Like a Grant. Like a Lincoln? 

== Can it get any more blatant? ==

Trump’s nominee to run the Census  is the author of a 2008 book titled Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.” The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics. It does not require Senate confirmation, so Congress would have no power to block the hire.

Monsters and traitors.  Worse than that. Blatant confederates.

Your answer to mad uncles who cite the recent stock market rise as “the Trump Effect”: People who bought in at the inauguration of Obama in 2009 made a 300%+ killing. Maybe then this is just the historical trend that the economy of the first year of an administration is credited to the predecessor.

How long has he been an agent of – or at least a target for recruitment by – the Kremlin? Have a look how far backNow combine that with the reasoning I lay forth here: that by far the favorite recruitment tactic of intelligence agencies is not bribery or ideology… but blackmail.

Values? Shall we try values? If we subtract outliers like Utah and Detroit & Chicago, name a metric of moral and healthy living that is not worse in Red America, from teen sex, STD and pregnancy rates to obesity, dropouts, divorce and domestic violence, gambling and so on. Name... one... exception.  Other than abortion which is a disagreement over fundamentals. 

Let’s dive in, according to this article:

“Last year, Bible-believing Louisiana had the highest murder rate in the country. Moore’s Alabama came in third. Prayer-drenched Mississippi had the sixth-worst. You’re much safer when surrounded by skeptics. 

"The irreligious state of Massachusetts had the fifth-lowest murder rate, with only 17 percent as many homicides per capita as Louisiana. Godless New Hampshire and Maine had the nation’s lowest murder rates.

“Of the 10 least religious states, none is among the 10 most dangerous. Of the 10 most religious states, only Utah is among the 10 that are least hospitable to homicide.

“God-fearing places also don’t have a stellar record of upholding the family. The divorce rate is 50 percent higher in Alabama than in Massachusetts — which, by the way, was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. New Hampshire and Mississippi, at opposite ends of the religiosity spectrum, are virtually identical in the propensity for marital dissolution.”

Then this: President Trump retweeted, quoted and highly touted a right wing site called “Britain First”… that relished the attention. Then the group tried frantically to scrub tons of pro-Putin propaganda on their board lest anyone get the right idea about the links between "conservatives" and Kremlin.

== Are you SURE Halloween is over? ==

Here are scary items:

* Johns Hopkins psychologist John Gartner suggests an “80 percent chance” that Trump will push the nuclear button.

*Are you reassured, then, that the top U.S. nuclear commander told a security conference Saturday that he would not execute a nuclear launch ordered by President Trump if he considered the order to be “illegal?”

* Well, I have repeatedly said we depend utterly upon the sanity and maturity of the U.S. military Officer Corps… and the dems should be recruiting thousands of retired officers to run for every red-district office.

* Still, there is a way to safety that’s short of impeachment and more reliable than officers hinting they would disobey “illegal orders,” and it might even get passed by a Republican Congress. It is veto-proof and calming and entirely plausible. See it here.

* Conservative intellectuals have led the way in denouncing Donald Trump as not a "true conservative." And yes, a conclave of residually-same conservatives might yet gather to salvage something decent and American from the ashes of their movement. But this article - and the book The Reactionary Mind - attacks the very idea that Trump is anything but what he seems. A factotum of aristocracy and the far-right.

* And this article by a Christian minister asks: “Christians have traditionally rejected the worship of money, sex and power. Do we still?” A year into Trump's presidency, Christians are facing a spiritual quandary.

“Meanwhile, in the absence of a clearly-articulated foreign policy vision from the administration, The Economist—hardly a bastion of left-wing politics—has taken a stab at trying to characterize the Trump Doctrine. Their take: "America's foreign policy: embrace thugs, dictators and strongmen." They note the President's friendly relationship with Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and others, not to mention his disdain for refugees, immigrants, and the like. While the magazine is no fan of Barack Obama's foreign policy, he seems like Nixon or Talleyrand or Metternich next to Trump.”

And yet, I have repeatedly told you that there is much hope to be found in the members of the United States Military Officer Corps. Now there’s this: “Sixteen of the nation’s top retired military commanders are urging Congress to pass gun control legislation, arguing that there are many steps that can be taken to curb gun deaths that do not violate the Second Amendment.”

 == Wikileaks and accountability ==

There are times when I’d rather not be right. Going back to the beginning, I have always had mixed feelings about WikiLeaks… approving of the general concept and trend toward transparency/accountability, while instinctively suspicious toward a rising aroma of hypocrisy and political bias favoring the stinkiest parts of our modern world. Do read this article! Now we know that:

In Twitter direct messages during the last throes of the US election campaign, released over the past week, WikiLeaks, which US intelligence has deemed a tool of Russian intelligence, attempted to woo Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, with offers of secret collusion.”

“The radical libertarians and the autocrats are allied by virtue of sharing an enemy which is the mainstream, soft, establishment, liberal politics,” said Jamie Bartlett, the director of the centre for the analysis of social media at the Demos think tank. “Most early, hardline cryptographers who were part of this movement in the 1990s considered that democracy and liberty were not really compatible. Like most radical libertarians – as Assange was – the principal enemy was the soft democrats who were imposing the will of the majority on the minority and who didn’t really believe in genuine, absolute freedom.”

The Guardian article goes on to show an extensive network of “libertarians” whose collusion with the Kremlin, as well as other despotic or proto-feudal factions, has been getting ever more blatant and smelly.  Only… note my use of quotation marks around “libertarians”! Alas, this reporter - and almost every other smart observer - is falling for a longstanding trap. One with devastating consequences, in its cleverness.

Think it through. The nightmare of the right is that ten million Americans with libertarian, pro-market enterprise leanings will someday realize that there are no reasons to keep thinking of the Republican Party as “less-terrible” than Democrats.  

The standard narrative is that “liberals like personal freedom” and “conservatives fight for economic freedom.” And as long as the incantation of false equivalence can be maintained, the oligarchs know that most “libertarians” will remain prone to accepting Koch-Murdoch propaganda, hold their noses and vote GOP.

Never mind that in fact market economics are savagely repressed by almost every Republican priority or action, and every single active metric of US national health - especially entrepreneurship, small business, innovation and so - does better across the span of democratic administrations than republican ones. That’s every single such metric.   See: Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?

 Some libertarians are re-awakening to the fact that their founder - Adam Smith - emphasized the creative power of competition - and not the religious sanctity of property, which he denounced as the worst enemy (if too concentrated) of open-fair competition. Some libertarians have glanced at human history and 6000 years during which the destroyers of flat-fair-creative competition were oligarchs and owner-cheater lords, and not “government bureaucrats."

Yes, generalizations about libertarians come easily, with facile “obviousness.” But attacking them only drives them away from the light, back into Murdoch-Koch arms. 

Try parsing things more clearly. Libertarians who want both freedom and democracy - as well as a vibrant entrepreneurial economy - should be lured into conversation.  

Those who declare that “democracy and freedom are incompatible” are members of the ancient enemy of both, denounced by Smith. They are rushing to throw themselves at the feet of an oligarchy that has only changed a few symbols since King George. They don’t deserve the name “libertarian.” 

== From 9/11 to 11/9  ==

And finally a lesser but still worrisome sickness of the left

From 9/11 to 11/9 (the election of President Donald Trump): A short history of World War IV Philosopher Jean Baudrillard predicted this 15 years ago: The Western world is waging a long war — against itself.

The 9/11 - 11/9 palindrome is reminiscent of my own rumination that each century's theme becomes apparent about a decade and a half into it.

Back to the article: "Were the shocking attacks of September 2001 and the shocking election result of November 2016 — 9/11 and 11/9, the palindrome that defines our age — fluke occurrences amid the general upward trajectory of Western civilization? Or do they represent, as Baudrillard argued in the first instance, Western civilization’s innate yearning toward its own destruction?"

Goodie. I am reassured. The title sounded sensibly curious and I wondered... is this actual common sense coming from the postmodernist clique? Then I saw the crap about "Western civilization’s innate yearning toward its own destruction?" And I am reinforced in my hatred of these guys, despite even when they seem partly correct.

The "West" is more dynamic and modernist and creative than ever! The problem isn't hatred of "itself." The problem is that we are welded at the hip to a minority of fellow citizens who can only be called "confederate. About a third of these neighbors -- in the U.S. and Europe -- are congenitally terrified of modernity and our willingness to confidently confront change. In America, it is the very same "civil war" that goes back - in phases - to 1778.

These are different parties! The "West" is not so much self-hating as saddled with idiot cousins who are violently hostile to the enlightenment, to science, to all fact-using professions, and to the very thought of incremental progress.

We must not return their hate -- every time the Union defeated a fever of confederate madness, we moved to "charity for all and malice toward none." 

But this will entail first prying our cousins' hands from around our throats and the throat of the Republic. Postmodernist polysyllabic lefty flakes are no help at all.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The new face of science -- and attacking "citizen science."

We'll do a weekend science roundup, showing some of our tremendous advances... plus a strange look at citizen science. Starting with...

... foresight through AI: UC Berkeley researchers have developed a robotic learning technology that enables robots to imagine the future of their actions so they can figure out how to manipulate objects they have never encountered before. Useful for a myriad functions like self-driving cars… but also the underlying skill that led to human consciousness.

“Facebook’s new “proactive detection” artificial intelligence technology will scan all posts for patterns of suicidal thoughts, and when necessary send mental health resources to the user at risk or their friends, or contact local first-responders.” Before you howl, remember that Facebook postings are semi-public. Still, this dances along the edge of disturbing. “The idea of Facebook proactively scanning the content of people’s posts could trigger some dystopian fears about how else the technology could be applied. Facebook didn’t have answers about how it would avoid scanning for political dissent or petty crime…” 

In The Myth of a Superhuman AI, Kevin Kelly likens AI transcendentalism to cargo cults. Kelly writes, "When I asked Ray Kurzweil, the exponential wizard himself, where the evidence for exponential AI was, he wrote to me that AI does not increase explosively but rather by levels. He said: 

“It takes an exponential improvement both in computation and algorithmic complexity to add each additional level to the hierarchy…. So we can expect to add levels linearly because it requires exponentially more complexity to add each additional layer, and we are indeed making exponential progress in our ability to do this. We are not that many levels away from being comparable to what the neocortex can do, so my 2029 date continues to look comfortable to me.”

Comfortable... with a series of expected exponential transformations? Especially as the most recent one -- Moore's Law -- is collapsing as we speak?  Still,  I do believe many kinds of AI are coming. Conversational (and even guilt-tripping) emulation programs are sure to convince millions, even billions, that it is here before 2022, even if experts tell us that it isn't.

== More science-related... or at least cool ==

This used to be a “Secret site” where A&E had Episode #1 of our pilot series The Architechs. Come to comments below if you know another way folks can view it! Especially since AandE and the History Channel couldn't care less.

Skeletal studies – comparing bone density during the first 5000 years of the agricultural era  - suggest that, in contrast to men, rigorous manual labor was a more important component of prehistoric women’s behavior than was terrestrial mobility through thousands of years of European agriculture, at levels far exceeding those of modern women, even modern athletes. They worked and foaled until they dropped. It beggars the imagination that some women dislike the technology and science that finally gave them a break. And that includes especially technologies that help keep bad men accountable.

== Haters of a good thing ==

Trust this modern, cynical era to interpret every good thing as having a dark and foreboding cloud.  I’ve long touted our entry into a rising Age of Amateurs, in which no fine art from the past (from glass-making, sword-smithing and weaving to raising heirloom plant varieties) goes today without an avid hobbyist community. The perfect answer to those cynics who declare ours to be a “decadent” era. And yes, I’ve included amateur science, serving on many advisory panels helping today’s scientific “priesthood” to be unlike any predecessor, welcoming the eager participation and input of citizens and amateurs.

Crowd-sourced or citizen science has opened up avenues for public participation in research projects and environmental monitoring - such as bird countsclassifying galaxies, folding proteins, hunting for exoplanets, or identifying cancer cells.

And yet, this article in Aeon, Citizen Science - a front for Big Business? portrays all of this as – dig it – a bad thing!  GalaxyZoo, a non-profit, amateur astronomy project initially set up with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, asks participants to scan millions of celestial images for common galactic morphologies; to keep their attention, players can spell out words with constellations, or win points for certain cute galactic structures. Smartfin, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, gets surfers to attach a sensor to their boards and collect data on salinity, temperature and the like, all of which is pinged back to Scripps once the surfer makes it back to the beach and hooks up the fin to a smartphone. Hundreds of ‘camera traps’, scattered around the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, capture images of creatures that can then be identified by users at Snapshot Serengeti, thus keeping track of animal populations; to amuse themselves, people can attach comments to their favourite photographs (lolgoats, perhaps, rather than lolcats),” writes Philip Miroski.

Yes? And…? We’re all waiting for the “but” you're implying. Go on

Providing that "but" with zeal, Miroski continues, “It would be one thing if the citizen science was, in fact, a grassroots political ferment growing from the bottom up. However, let’s look at who’s behind a sample of recent initiatives: the National Science Foundation in the United States, which funded the PBS series The Crowd & the Cloud (2017); US congress, which passed enabling legislation for citizen science in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA) (2017); the Pentagon’s DARPA, which donated $10 million after 2012 to introduce biohacker spaces in more than 1,000 high schools; an NGO called the European Citizen Science Association; and various foundations with deep pockets dedicated to something called open science. Not much space left for the average Joe. Indeed, the ‘citizen’ herself seems almost entirely absent from this crowded phalanx of bureaucratic programmes and entrepreneurial interventions, all united in their fervour to found a republic in which citizen science can flourish.”

Oh… my.  Major institutions are adapting to a new and more open era, in which average citizens have both enthusiasm and intelligence to participate in solving civilizations’s problems… (as predicted here)... and this is interpreted by Mirowski as a vile plot!

“The irony is that some of the individuals who do take part appear to be motivated by a burning distrust of the government or else a rebel anarchism set against large corporations – sentiments that are common among cadres of biohackers. Yet it’s those very governments and corporations that are injecting the money and ginning up the momentum behind the movement. Something doesn’t stack up.” - continues the article.

Yes, something doesn't stack, and it's reflexive cynicism.  Now, most anti-modernity rants do often play off of some genuine complaints. There are places in this landscape where amateur scientists are already contributing so effectively that real commercial value is being attained.  For example, those who devote the “spare cycles” of their home computers to protein-folding problems have already contributed to the development of commercial products, yet there exists no provision for sharing the rewards from any new drug discoveries.

Mirowski writes: “One example is PatientsLikeMe, where patients targeted via advocacy groups upload details about their experience of illness and treatment, which is then sold on to pharmaceutical companies to provide alternative data to conventional clinical trials. It’s an extension of the sharing economy into the heart of scientific research; where once we had to pay for work, now it’s simply a situation in which networks can activate and channel people’s spare resources (labour, time, capital, narcissism) for the benefit of the network as a whole – especially the owner of the platform, who ends up profiting from all this activity. It’s a bit like meets Amazon, all for citizen science. The winner in this scenario is the startup impresario and the venture capitalist; it’s hard to see exactly what the citizen gets out of it.”

Zooniverse Citizen Science
Underneath the stunning oversimplification of that remark – (We all benefit from the advancement of science about human health) – there lies a set of genuine problems: preservation of individual patient privacy; and the simmering notion that every use of our data ought to come back to us… fair is fair. 

In fact, I am participating in some efforts to develop such reciprocality – perhaps via some modern micro-payments system. Or else using blockchain “coins or tokens” to track when an individual’s particular suggestion for a protein folding resulting in a billion-dollar new drug.  These are things that badly need developing, and I don’t mind articles warning of the need.

But overall, this article is a perfect example of what’s gone wrong with some wings of today’s intelligencia. Unable to accept even the concept of a good thing, the reaction of these fellows is reflexive outrage at anything that might be attracting zeal, or joy or enthusiasm or optimism in this world. 

Note that I am well aware that our far-worse, existential danger is from a neo-feudalist - even fascist/confederate - right! But we need agility to turn our heads and note when some of our "allies" are - at-best - being really unhelpful.

To explore the vast range of Citizen Science opportunities, see projects listed on ZooniverseSciStarter, Galaxy Zoo, Foldit, the Citizen Science Center, and the Citizen Science Alliance.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Is it possible to fact-check?

There is no greater priority in the USA than finding a way to debunk lies and check on facts. All sides hurl assertions and leave it to citizens to decide which ones to believe. But in today's partisan echo-chambers, the choice nearly always depends on what sounds and feels "truthy." 

This is not the way adults operate! Politics used to at least bear slightly on confirmable-falsifiable factual evidence. That is, it did, before we entered a virulent 8th phase of the American Civil War.

Ponder what might happen if we all had a reliable place - or better yet, a suite of diverse and even competing places - where trustworthy folks could demolish some, maybe most, of today's howlers? Indignation-incantation junkies on the far-left and today's entire-right loathe that idea. Especially, Fox and ClearChannelRadio fought hard to end the Rebuttal Rule that would expose their audience to "here's disproof!" refutation.

Those attempting to verify evidence face a skilled immune system. Confederates denounce any attempt at fact-checking as "partisan."

"So what’s the basis for claims that, say, PolitiFact is biased?" explains Paul Krugman in Facts Have a Well-Known Liberal Bias

"Hey, The arch-rightwing Weekly Standard explained the criteria: "Surveys done by the University of Minnesota and George Mason University have shown that the supposedly impartial “fact checking” news organization (PolitiFact) rates Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims...

"Notice the implicit assumption here," -- Krugman concludes -- "namely, that impartial fact-checking would find an equal number of false claims from each party. But what if – bear with me a minute – Republicans actually make more false claims than Democrats?"

Those who try my Questionnaire on Ideology, face a discomforting realization - that all of us have the same reflex: "My adversaries believe what they do because of propaganda or malignant purpose; but my beliefs come from logical appraisal of the evidence." 

Can "fact-checkers" be biased? Sure. That's not the smoking gun.

In fact, we're all koolaid-drinkers, to some degree. (We're human, after all -- at least until uplift or the arrival of AI.)  But the American/Western renaissance always depended on a majority of our citizens tempering this willful delusion with a grounding in pragmatic tools of evidence, even a willingness to murmur the sacred incantation of science: "I might be wrong."

And that is why the risen Confederacy must wage all-out war on every fact-centered profession. 

The smoking volcano is the confederates' refusal to ever offer up their own plan for a neutral fact-checking service!

== So what's to be done? ==

Over and over I have explained... confederates still have one zone where they accept the primacy of fact -- in wagers! Their macho will shrivel if they are faced with a bald challenge: 

"We dare you to offer up names of top conservative-adult sages who can help set up a neutral fact-checking service!"

Consider how this confrontation - (to date never used by even a single pundit, journalist, or Democratic politician) -- puts them in a bind.  

   --  If they refuse, they can be taunted with great effectiveness, that they are too cowardly to actually check on the 'fake news.'

   --  If they offer up loonies, that will help drive off their last fact-people. And mark this well: there are at least 10 million agonized "ostrich republicans" who may desert that fragile coalition, as many recently did in Alabama, if they get a 'last straw.'

   --  If they offer genuine adults to such a fact-checking endeavor, then those adults will betray the GOP and Fox, by saying: "that's not true." 

After the last 18 months, can we all agree that we need new tactics! 
Can we at least try this one? 

Make no mistake: the War on Science - and the war on all fact-using professions - constitutes the core of this treason. If we confront it boldly, then there may be a light.

By letting ourselves get distracted into symbolism and minutiae, we prove ourselves to be the fools.

== "Asserting something makes it so!" ==

Muslims celebrating on the roofs on September 11, 2001. Ted Cruz's father being involved in the JFK assassination. The largest inaugural crowds ever. Obama wire-tapping Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. Three to 5 million people voting illegally in the election. And now DT is back to Birtherism! Claiming "evidence" he never shows, and plans to "sue" the almost twenty women who accused him of sexual assault... but never getting around to suing.

Or asking the IRS to stop the "audit" so he can share his tax returns. Or asking them to verify THAT there is an audit. "In Trump's first 298 days in office, Trump said 1,628 things that were either misleading or totally false, according to calculations made by the Washington Post's Fact Checker." 

My contribution to all this? Just perspective. (It's my job.) Squint and realize: this is how all our ancestors lived, all the time! No one could tell the king, or priest, or lords "that's not true and here's proof." 

We have lived in what was - historically - a bizarre experiment in reciprocal criticism and accountability. Adam Smith and the American Founders tried to embed this magical solution to human delusion, and it still lives! It has given us everything -- wealth, science, freedom -- but it is being torn down.... those who seek to restore feudalism. And it isn't just the oppression we should fear. It is the concomitant quality that always comes with that dismal formula.

Bad governance. Delusion,


== Doing it right! ==

Peter Diamandis offers an excellent case for optimism! This ebook - Evidence of Abundance (free to download) should help stoke your determination not to let troglodytes yank us backward. Technology isn't the only factor than can help save us! Satiability, deferred gratification and avid use of the problem-perceiving prefrontal lobes are all urgent.  All of those can combine with guarded optimism and help us confidently act to save the world and our children.

Peter’s goal here is to help you “protect your abundance mindset despite this barrage of negative news. Consider this ebook as “conversational capital” for your dinner table conversations or some inspirational reading for your travels" this holiday.

== Using a private KGB/Smersh/SECTRE to bypass the “deep state” ==

If even a quarter of this is true, it demonstrates just how confident the new plantation lords are, that they’ll soon cancel or over-ride the foremost American tradition: rule-of-law. 

Former Blackwater head (and Trump cabinet-brother) Erik  Prince is apparently setting up - with Oliver North and financed by Trumpist oligarchs - a secret and private intelligence agency, intended to supply both information and ‘operations’ independent from our sworn officers in accountable agencies like the CIA and FBI. 

Those sworn federal officers are deemed too much part of the reviled “deep state”… the code phrase to dismiss fact-users who are answerable to laws and Congressional oversight and a free citizenry, and not to deep-pocket oligarchs. Horrors. Can’t have that.

How to stand up to the Kremlin: in the hifalutin-cogent journal Foreign Affairs, former VP Joe Biden and Michael Carpenter show in-detail that we are already mired in a kind of existential struggle… one that science fiction legend Frederik Pohl called “Cool War.” (Get the novel by that name. Its current plausibility will terrify you.)  Biden and his colleague lay out overwhelming evidence that a foreign regime - actually about two dozen, united in alliance — are using every means at their disposal to bring down America and the West and the entire Enlightenment Experiment.

In a few places, Ol’ Joe slightly oversimplifies: In contrast to the Soviet Union, however, contemporary Russia offers no clear ideological alternative to Western democracy. Russia’s leaders invoke nationalist, populist, and statist slogans or themes, but the Kremlin’s propaganda machine shies away from directly challenging the core precepts of Western democracy: competitive elections, accountability for those in power, constitutionally guaranteed rights, and the rule of law. Instead, the Kremlin carefully cultivates a democratic façade, paying lip service to those principles even as it subverts them.”

In fact, the members of the anti-west consortium have made it plain that very very concepts of democracy and rule-of-law are to be disdained.  Moreover, we see the rump intelligencia on the U.S. right parroting identical themes, e.g. declaring that “democracy and freedom are incompatible.”

(Here is where I demolish that obnoxious mystical catechism.)

There are many aspects that Biden leaves hanging… like what will happen to Siberia, when Russia’s population plummets while millions of Chinese cross over as “businessmen.” (I'm taking bets over whether Siberia has already been pre-sold, while our eyes are diverted to the South China Sea.)

Then there is the U.S. right’s obsession with symbolism — that all is well, so long as former KGB agents wear crosses in the Kremlin, instead of hammers and sickles. (The symbolism obsession, made plain.)

But Biden’s detailed appraisal of corrupt and corrupting practices merits your attention, your sober reflection… and it means that moves by certain western officials to discredit and weaken NATO amount to… well… I am thinking of a T-Word.