Author Topic: Podcast #54  (Read 23620 times)

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Offline psyopsgr

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Podcast #54
« Reply #30 on: August 08, 2006, 06:55:26 AM »
Since we are being sceptical here, i have some objections to some of Dr. Novella's concepts like merit and meritocracy, experts, "homosexuality" and "homosexual lifestyle".
     Talking of experts, merit and the rise to power of those who possess it, i guess we 'd call them the meritocrats, suggests that there is such a thing as an objective definition and assessment of merit and expertee. Now i understand that given enough filtering in the educational system, enough tests of ability and relatively low corruption and nepotism in selection processes of scientific hierarchy, people on the top tend to be people of higher ability. This is however a relative and not an absolute truth.
     For example what ability are we talking about? Scientific ability of the kind that the morally charged word merit would imply or also skills of political lobbying for positions of scientific power? Would the lobbying skill also be included in the concept of a meritocrat's merit or would that contaminate your attempt for a more sterile and objective demarcation criterion?
     In my view the real world is kind of fuzzy in its concepts, visceral in its motivations and political in its means. Perhaps still things are different, more objective and meritocratic in the states (although it would be hard to reconcile your current administration with such a claim  :wink:  ). So, yes, the peer review system is probably a fair attempt at the truth and your idea of multiple papers clustering is an even fairer one. But we 'd better be painfully aware of the inherent relativity of all this and sceptical of building up on ill founded objective concepts.
     Finally on homosexuality and a homosexual lifestyle, i am pretty sceptical of the easy application of such categories. Leaving the notoriously ill-defined concept of homosexuality in general aside, what exactly is a homosexual lifestyle, apart from an easy way of labelling? Does it refer to a lifestyle held by gays who are out of the closet? And is there any unitary such lifestyle? Epidemiology needs a way to create categories for statistical counting, but these categories aren't always as straightforward and easy as age, skin colour or sex. When those epidemiologists concluded that gay men at 20 in a canadian city will most probably live to be 66, they made a series of assumptions. For example, they assumed that a singular sexually promiscuous lifestyle predisposing to getting hiv exists in their singular category of gays, be it 3, 6 or 9 % of the male population.
    It is such particular stereotyping assumptions that stay between the lines when their final conclusions are stated or hyped in right wing agendas. Beware closeted gay men, if you choose to live a "gay lifestyle", you 're bound to lose a decade of life expectancy! To me, a more honest interpretation of the data would be that living an unsafe sexual life is indicative of a severe drop in life expectancy for gays, given the high prevalence of hiv infection in their midst. That would also leave free the possibility of both being out and having safe sex, no doubt an unimaginable horror to religious fanatics, but also, in my mind, the safest option a gay man would have today for both his physical and mental wellbeing.
     Hope i wasn't a drag, love the podcast  :)
 cynic from Greece...my friends though would call me a sophist with a mean streak... I would describe myself as a concerned dreamer ;-)

Offline JHGRedekop

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Podcast #54
« Reply #31 on: August 08, 2006, 07:05:14 AM »
Quote from: Steven Novella
If someone is emotionally gay but in denial and living a heterosexual lifestyle, their life expectancy would probably be no different from emotional heterosexuals.


I suspect it would actually be somewhat less due to suicides. Keeping such a thing hidden and living a lie can be a major contributor to depression.

Offline JHGRedekop

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Singularity
« Reply #32 on: August 08, 2006, 07:23:11 AM »
I just skimmed the forum and didn't notice anyone talking about the Singularity, so I thought I'd toss in a couple of points...

- Moore's Law isn't a law. It's a description of past behaviour, and doesn't actually have any predictive power other than any other extrapolation from historical trends. If computer hardware hits a plateau (we reach the limits of integrated circuits before quantum computing becomes usable, for example), then Moore's Law will fall apart.

- There are some nice commentaries on Kurzweil's famous "Countdown to Singularity" graph at http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_09/007172.php and http://neurobiology.pharyngula.org/index.php/weblog/comments/singularly_silly_singularity/P25/. I have a couple of problems with it -- first, it includes things like "Life", "Eukaryotic cells", "Class Mammalia", as well as "Agriculture", "Printing", "Computer". I don't think you can really claim that the development of eukaryotic cells is part of the same trend as human technology.

Second, Kurzweil lumps some things together as single events. "eukaryotic cells" and "multicellular organisms" are treated as one event; "printing" and "experimental method" are likewise treated as one thing. If they were broken out, it would break Kurzweil's nice log-log line. But historically, these were not simultaneous.

Third, the fact that Kurzweil chose some things and not others biases the chart. "Cambrian explosion (body parts)", "Repitles", and "Class Mammalia" are three consecutive points on the chart, but where's "Bony fishes" or "Colonization of land"? those are at least as significant as "Reptiles".

- Kurzweil insists that "paradigm shifts" have an exponential trend, but historically these sorts of things have logarithmic, not exponential, growth. Logarithmic growth starts exponential, then levels off as you run out of room for growth. Theodore Modis has a good write-up on that at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/tmodis/Kurzweil.htm.

- One important aspect of Kurzweil's prediction is artificial intelligence (or, at least, the digitization of human intelligence). But AI is probably the most stagnant field in computer science. Improvements in AI intelligence have lagged far, far behind Moore's Law. Some even think the progress is slowing down -- that it's growth is less than linear.

Offline cyborganics

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Podcast #54
« Reply #33 on: August 08, 2006, 11:29:53 AM »
Yeah, I have never seen any convincing evidence to support singularity. It comes across as a tad alarmist and even shrill at times.

Personally, if it does happen, I would like to be the first to welcome our biomechanized overlord and hope our bouncing baby demi-god a long and prolific existence even at the cost of our own civilization. Eh, its like they always say: you can't make an omelet without killing off a society.
cientist: A man who knows nothing until there is nothing left to understand.

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Offline JHGRedekop

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Podcast #54
« Reply #34 on: August 08, 2006, 11:51:15 AM »
Quote from: cyborganics
Yeah, I have never seen any convincing evidence to support singularity. It comes across as a tad alarmist and even shrill at times.


As far as hypertechnology goes, I'm as keen as anyone. Bring on the nanotubes, cyberbrains, prosthetic bodies, full-mind restore-from-backup, and so on. Ghost in the Shell, Snow Crash, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom -- they could be a lot of fun.

But I don't think "Kurzweil's Law" is convincing. It's nothing more than a bigger version of Moore's Law -- an extrapolation from past performance (though, in Kurzweil's case, I think a much shakier one). The trouble with extrapolation is that it gets less accurate the further out you go, and the more exponential the growth, the faster the accuracy drops off.

Plus, of course, exponential growth is often really logistic growth -- extrapolation is only good until the inflection point.

Offline Steven Novella

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Podcast #54
« Reply #35 on: August 08, 2006, 02:55:50 PM »
My reference to "meritocracy" was in reference to work - not scientists themselves. The hierarchy of scientists is much more complex, and certainly involves politics and social skills in addition to scientific merit.

But the point of peer review is to choose papers on methodological merit. Are they rigorous, complete, valid in arguments, etc.

We all apparently agree that concepts such as homosexuality are fuzzy. That is not the point. The disagreement is over degree of fuzziness, and the implications for meaningful epidemiology. I still feel that no one here has made an argument to support the notion that doing epidemiology on homosexuals as an identifiable group is extremely difficult to impossible - basically so hard that any results should not be considered valid.

I will make an additional clarification - when dealing with fuzzy categories rigorous scientists will simply choose an operational definition. It is understood that this is only representative - but it allows for objective inclusion and exlusion criteria.

Again, I think this comes down to the false continuum logical fallacy. Let's not pretend that there is a smooth and continuous spectrum of sexual orientation and behavior. There are meaningfully identifiable groups within the continuum - fuzzy at the borders certainly - but identifiable.  It is possible to talk about reptiles and mammals, despite the existence of the platypus.
Steven Novella
Host, The Skeptics Guide
snovella@theness.com

Offline azinyk

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Coffee Thermodynamics
« Reply #36 on: August 08, 2006, 04:42:11 PM »
Quote
this week's puzzle has appeared in other places.  There is a question in the first version of Trivial Pursuit regarding milk in coffee and the late great Professor Julius Summner Miller also regularly asked this question.

The fat content of milk provides the answer.


I disagree, and believe that the problem can be solved using Newton's law of cooling regardless of what substance is added - milk, cream, liqueur, orange juice, whatever.  What makes this such a great skeptical puzzle is that anyone can do it at home and find out for themselves.  It's an example of a problem where your hypotheses can easily be tested, and you'd be a fool not to, because it's so easy.

Offline Bob Novella

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Podcast #54
« Reply #37 on: August 09, 2006, 12:16:48 AM »
Hello everyone, this is Skeptical Rogue Bob.

I'll like to address some of  JHGRedekop comments.

Quote
Moore's Law isn't a law


Absolutely. "Moore's Law" is a misnomer. However, it is an extremely interesting trend considering that progress has not slackened through 5 paradigm shifts in computing devices (mechanical, relay, vacuum tubes, transistors, integrated circuits). This of course is not proof that this trend will continue. I believe the most compelling factor driving this trend now and in the future is the motivation created by potential wealth and prestige. The rewards for being the company to first capitalize on a new paradigm are just too great. It just seems obvious to me that we will relentlessly attempt to improve computing devices until we hit that ultimate wall; the laws of physics. Hopefully then we'll start focusing on actual software improvement.




Quote
I don't think you can really claim that the development of eukaryotic cells is part of the same trend as human technology.


What Kurzweil is doing here is generalizing his law of accelerating returns to apply to not just technology but to any "true evolutionary processes". From what I've read, his law holds even in this more generalized application. This seems more tenuous to me. I plan on asking him about this when I finally get him on the podcast.


Quote
Second, Kurzweil lumps some things together as single events...
Third, the fact that Kurzweil chose some things and not others biases the chart


These doesn't make sense to me either. I'll add them to my question list.

Quote
Kurzweil insists that "paradigm shifts" have an exponential trend, but historically these sorts of things have logarithmic, not exponential, growth. Logarithmic growth starts exponential, then levels off as you run out of room for growth.


I haven't read Modis' article yet but I will. My first impression from your question is that, historically, growth has never leveled off because by the time we reach the leveling-off phase for any particular paradigm, we were already onto the next paridigm and its associated exponential growth.


Quote
But AI is probably the most stagnant field in computer science.


I agree, improvements in AI have been very disappointing. I still have high hopes for this field however (is anyone really surprised?). I think we probably all agree that there's nothing inherently special about the neuronal substrate of human consciousness that precludes a more computer-like embodiment. The slow development if AI is at least partly due to the fact that we are trying to emulate the most complex thing that we know of in the universe. I believe we will yet see huge advances in AI; perhaps once brain scanning reaches a certain level of resolution and we are able to reverse-engineer more of regions of the brain. I'm also holding out hope that we may one day use genetic algorithms to evolve an intelligence.

Thanks for the comments JHGRedekop.



From the quote file:
Re: testing god:
After all, it’s impossible to stage a double-blind experiment when the subject is omniscient. :)   -James H.G. Redekop


-Bob

Offline monoRAIL

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Podcast #54
« Reply #38 on: August 09, 2006, 02:01:42 AM »
So many ad-hominem attacks in one podcast!

Ann Coulter was dismissed as an idiot.
Kentucky was labelled 'most ignorant state'.
And poor Perry was accused of being a rodent.

The skeptics are losing ground if they have to attack the person, and not the ideas! No surprise that all these ad-hominem's came from the female panel member though :roll:
I think the men should respond with a few ad-feminems.

And also with regard to the average age of homosexuals being affected by AIDS - was this only referring to the USA? I would imagine that AIDS is having a much more dramatic effect on the lifespan of straight women in the poorer nations of Africa.
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Offline JHGRedekop

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Podcast #54
« Reply #39 on: August 09, 2006, 07:02:44 AM »
Quote
Absolutely. "Moore's Law" is a misnomer. However, it is an extremely interesting trend considering that progress has not slackened through 5 paradigm shifts in computing devices (mechanical, relay, vacuum tubes, transistors, integrated circuits).



Strictly speaking, that's not true. Moore's Law states that "the complexity of integrated circuits doubles every 24 months" -- it does not apply to mechanical, relay, vacuum tube, or transistor based computers. It really only applies to the number of transistors you can squeeze onto a chip.

The Wiki page on Moore's Law addresses Kurzweil's extrapolation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore's_law#Formulations_of_Moore.27s_law. You can see from the graph reproduced there that it doesn't really hold up that well for the earlier paradigms. There are only four entries for relay computers, and they show no trend themselves (they're all grouped together and fall below the trendline). Vacuum tube copmuters likewise do not exhibit this growth. You'll also notice that Kurzweil has to bend the trendline to get it to even go through the earlier types of computer -- the slope is much higher for IC computers than for the ealier ones.

There's a good summary of criticisms of Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Accelerating_Returns#Criticisms

And I have to say that the exponential extrapolation in this chart (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:PPTExponentialGrowthof_Computing.jpg is quote unwarranted by the data point presented. And how do you place a human brain on a scale of "calculations per second per $1000"?

Quote
What Kurzweil is doing here is generalizing his law of accelerating returns to apply to not just technology but to any "true evolutionary processes"


Human invention isn't an evolutionary process, though. It's a feedback process, but it doesn't involve actual descent with modification.

In any case, his picking and choosing of evolutionary events rather biases his graph, as I said. I've seen one version that includes "Milky Way" and "Asteroid collision" (presumably referring to the Chicxulub asteroid) in the graph! Those are hardly evolutionary events. Not to mention that it only mentions the most famous mass extinction, which wasn't even the biggest.

And if "Milky Way" goes on the chart, why doesn't "Formation of Earth"?

Quote
From the quote file:
Re: testing god:
After all, it’s impossible to stage a double-blind experiment when the subject is omniscient. :)   -James H.G. Redekop


I made it into a quote file? Cool.

Offline geoffI

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Podcast #54
« Reply #40 on: August 09, 2006, 09:25:15 AM »
I think this podcast should win some kind of award just for the use of the word 'Singularity' without mention of the words 'Star' and 'Trek' .

Offline Kerry Maxwell

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Podcast #54
« Reply #41 on: August 09, 2006, 12:38:32 PM »
My problem with the singularity is I know one of Ray Kurzweil's former business partners, who has given me an idea of the general acuracy of Ray's past predictions  :lol:

Kerry M

Offline JHGRedekop

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Podcast #54
« Reply #42 on: August 09, 2006, 01:23:33 PM »
Quote
My problem with the singularity is I know one of Ray Kurzweil's former business partners, who has given me an idea of the general acuracy of Ray's past predictions  :lol:


A serious case of Excel-trendline-itis, eh? :)

Offline mxracer652

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Podcast #54
« Reply #43 on: August 09, 2006, 02:52:44 PM »
We're all gay, it's just to what extent are you gay.

Regarding the puzzle, the correct answer has been given, but the reasoning is that there are 3 types of heat transfer, convection, conduction, and radiation.  In this case, conduction can be considered negligible.  Convection varies linearly with the temperature difference between the liquid and the room air, and it =  constant * surface area * temperature difference.  

Radiation is the big player, because it = constant * constant * surface area * (object temp^4 – air temp^4).  And the temperatures have to be absolute temperature, which makes the number in parenthesis even larger than if you used a relative temperature (Celsius or Fahrenheit).  Radiation increases exponentially with temperature difference & this why you should dump the milk in first.

Offline Steven Novella

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Podcast #54
« Reply #44 on: August 09, 2006, 06:04:41 PM »
Quote from: "monoRAIL"
The skeptics are losing ground if they have to attack the person, and not the ideas!


False dichotomy. We attack the ideas AND the person.  Actually, we attack the ideas and then apply an appropriate label to the person advocating those ideas. The ad hominem logical fallacy is when you argue that someone is wrong BECAUSE they are stupid, not when you call them stupid because they advocate ideas that are absurd, and use sloppy thinking to defend them.
Steven Novella
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