Updated: 9/28/09; 12:47:40 PM.
Richard Gayle's Old Blog
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Monday, September 28, 2009

Almost a Dickian story - A Man With A PhD

Surrogates: Lifeâo[oe] Only Shallower: [Via Science Not Fiction]
The world of Surrogates, people venture forth into the world via sleek and sexy avatars from the comfort of elaborate wireless hookups in their bedrooms. Lifeâo[oe]Only Better goes the technology tagline. In theory, the scene wonâo[dot accent]t take place for another half century - unless youâo[dot accent]re watching the film in Los ...


I was struck by how much this felt like a movie based on a Philip K. Dick story. The paranoia, the inability to know what was real or not, the disconnection of human emotion from consequence. It even had a novel drug - sparking, where the surrogates slightly electrocuted each other.

I really liked it. Very much a genre movie without a whole lot of deep thought about the message that was there. Just put us into this world, and solve a murder. But it is a world where you can never be sure just who is operating the surrogate you are interacting with, where there is not a single human-human interaction or even a touch until the very end.

It did not do well at the box office but I think it will gain in stature as time goes one. It posits important questions about what makes us human that are not easily answered.

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  comment []12:47:32 PM    

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Using crowds to solve problems - SpreadingScience

crowd by James Cridland

Get Ready to Participate: Crowdsourcing and Governance: [Via Confessions of an Aca/Fan]

Crowdsourcing and Governance

by Daren C. Brabham

It's been three years since Jeff Howe coined the term "crowdsourcing" in his Wired article "The Rise of Crowdsourcing." The term, which describes an online, distributed problem solving and production model, is most famously represented in the business operations of companies like Threadless and InnoCentive and in contests like the Goldcorp Challenge and the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Contest.

In each of these cases, the company has a problem it needs solved or a product it needs designed. The company broadcasts this challenge on its Web site to an online community--a crowd--and the crowd submits designs and solutions in response. Next--and this is a key component of crowdsourcing--the crowd vets the submissions of its peers, critiquing and ranking submissions until winners emerge. Though winners are often rewarded for their ideas, prizes are often small relative to industry standards for the same kind of professional work and rewards sometimes only consist of public recognition.

Recognizing that not all creativity and innovation resides in-house, some organizations are looking for connections to outside innovators. New social tools allow them to make connections, through such sources as InnoCentive. When done well, these approaches can not only produce new ideas but help vet these ideas for suitability.

[More at SpreadingScience]

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  comment []9:28:14 AM    

Friday, August 7, 2009

Can they be housebroken? - A MAn with a PhD

"Creodonts": Carnivores by Association: [Via Catalogue of Organisms]
"Karianne's Pet" by Carl Buell. The large animal in the painting is the hyaenodontid Megistotherium osteothlastes, a contender for the title of biggest carnivorous mammal ever.

As explained in an earlier post (which you may be interested in reading as a bit of background to this one), the earlier part of the Caenozoic (the current era of the earth's history) was home to a number of mammalian lineages of very mysterious relationships. Very few of the familiar orders around us today had yet put in an appearance, and instead the world was home to such oddities as pantodonts, tillodonts and dinocerates. Among the prominent carnivorous mammals of the time were a group known as the creodonts. Creodonts ranged in size from that of a small cat to lion- or bear-size species, and often converged in appearance with those animals. But what were creodonts?

Current authors regard the Creodonta as including two families, the vaguely cat-like Oxyaenidae and the largely dog- or hyaena-like Hyaenodontidae. Oxyaenids were found in North America and Europe during the late Palaeocene and Eocene, while hyaenodontids were found in Africa, Eurasia and North America from the Late Palaeocene to near the end of the Miocene, though they disappeared from North America not long after the end of the Eocene (Gheerbrant et al., 2006). Many authors have suggested a relationship with modern carnivorans (cats, dogs, weasels, bears, etc.), and they have been included with the latter in a superorder Ferae. Popular as this arrangement has been, however, there's just one small problem - there's not a shred of evidence to support it. [More]

A wonderful post demonstrating why taxonomy at lower levels and biological systematics at higher levels can be so troublesome. we just do not have enough information about some extinct species to make an accurate call.

And his explanation for taxonomic drift is excellent and why taxonomy requires a tremendous depth of knowledge in order to keep things straight. Because even though researchers may be using the same names, they may be describing separate species.

It does make me wish some creodonts survived. Wouldn't it be nice to have one as a pet?

[More at A Man with a PhD]

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  comment []12:24:33 PM    

How science corrects misrepresentation - A Man with a PhD

Two weeks from blog post to paper submitted: [Via Deltoid]
It's only taken two weeks to go from the blog posts shredding McLean et al to a paper submitted to the Journal of Geophysical Research. The authors are G. Foster, J. D. Annan, P. D. Jones, M. E. Mann, B. Mullan, J. Renwick, J. Salinger, G. A. Schmidt, and K. E. Trenberth and the abstract says:

McLean et al. [2009] (henceforth MFC09) claim that the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), as represented by the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), accounts for as much as 72% of the global tropospheric temperature anomaly (GTTA) and an even higher 81% of this anomaly in the tropics. They conclude that the SOI is a "dominant and consistent influence on mean global temperatures," "and perhaps recent trends in global temperatures". However, their analysis is incorrect in a number of ways, and greatly overstates the influence of ENSO on the climate system. This comment first briefly reviews what is understood about the influence of ENSO on global temperatures, then goes on to show that the analysis of MFC09 severely overestimates the correlation between temperature anomalies and the SOI by inflating the power in the 2-6 year time window while filtering out variability on longer and shorter time scales. It is only because of this faulty analysis that they are able to claim such extremely high correlations. The suggestion in their conclusions that ENSO may be a major contributor to recent trends in global temperature is not supported by their analysis or any physical theory presented in that paper, especially as the analysis method itself eliminates the influence of trends on the purported correlations.

Via Joe Romm and Gareth Renowden.


This is how science works. A published paper is critiqued and its faults revealed by further publications. As time goes on, a better model of the natural world emerges.

That is how it is supposed to be done.Truth is not decided by who shouts the most, who is the most frightening or who has the best PR machine. Openness and transparency help prevent the distortion of facts.

[More at A Man with a PhD]

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  comment []12:23:42 PM    

Astroturf is not democracy - A Man with a PhD

shout by suneko

Fixing our health care system is critical for the United States, not only because it might be the humane thing to do but also in order to maintain a competitive economy. 15% of our GDP pays for healthcare and this is projected to raise to about 20% by 2017. Our health insurance premiums have more than doubled in 10 years. We pay more than any other developed country while insuring a smaller portion of the population. Over 50% of all personal bankruptcies are due to medical expenses, something that is not even possible in most developed countries.

Health care costs to businesses are increasing much faster than profits, resulting in the mathematical certainty that either total health insurance costs to businesses will become greater than total profits or even more people will be without health care. Businesses in most other countries do not have the burden of paying healthcare out of their profits, making it easier for them to be profitable.

Finally, health insurance costs raise each year but at an unknown rate. It is quite difficult for most businesses, especially small ones, to forecast just what their health care costs will be each year. This adds another problematic layer for the financial health of small companies.

These should all be part of any debate on health care reform in this country. But we are not seeing that. What we are seeing are the same sorts of bullying, astroturf tactics that have been used before by vested interests to stop debate and to stop the democratic process.

They do not have any interest in our real health concerns. They are concerned solely about maintaining their profits.

There has been well-documented instances of astroturfing over the years. One of the most recent instances of fraud dealt with a lobbying group that forged letters using legitimate organization's letterheads; trying to make it seem as though groups like the NAACP were against legislation that was harmful to the group that paid for the campaign.

Astroturf may be fraud. But it is used constantly by lobbying groups, and others with vested interests.

Rachel Maddow has been doing a great job reporting on the history of this fraudulent approach and who is behind its current usage against health care reform.

[More at A Man With A PhD]

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  comment []12:22:45 PM    

Spreading lies should have consequences - A Man With A PhD

shout by suneko

The AVN is reaping what they sowed: [Via Bad Astronomy]

Iâo[dot accent]m not shedding too many tears over the tsunami of bad press the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) is receiving right now.

Iâo[dot accent]ve written about them before, oh yes. They are the ones headed by Meryl Dorey, the woman who says vaccinations are dangerous, who says no one dies of pertussis, who says that itâo[dot accent]s better not to vaccinate, who insinuates (at the 11:50 mark of that video) that doctors only vaccinate children because itâo[dot accent]s profitable for them. She says that, even though on that live TV program she sat a few feet away from Toni and David McCaffery, parents who had just lost their four week old daughter to pertussis because she was too young to be vaccinated yet and the herd immunity in Sydney was too low to suppress the pertussis bacterium. This year alone, three babies in Australia, including young Dana McCaffery, have died from pertussis.

Not enough parents are vaccinating their children. And groups like the AVN spread misinformation about vaccines, spread it like a foul odor on the wind.


I hope the full force of the law is brought to bear against this people. Their lies result in people dying. Misrepresent facts and children will die.
By spreading misinformation about vaccinations the AVN is scaring parents. The herd immunity is low in part because parents are scared to vaccinate their children. The low herd immunity is killing babies. It really is just that simple.
The works of vaccine denialists are responsible for low vaccination rates which remove the herd immunity that provides so many people protection.

[More at A Man With A PhD]

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  comment []11:54:38 AM    

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Innovating with elephants - SpreadingScience

Energy, innovation and elephants:
[Via Andrew Hargadon]
There's nothing like money to bring out the dogma in people, and there's nothing, if not money, in the $150B energy innovation plan of the Obama administration.

The ensuing dogma surfaces around how to best spend that money. On the one side are those arguing that we need to invest in deploying existing technologies (the latest in solar, wind, and energy efficiency)[~]on the other side are those arguing such federal investments in existing technologies would starve the basic research activities that will bring us the truly breakthrough technologies we need. Nowhere is this debate more starkly represented than in the (barely) civil dialog between Joe Romm and the Breakthrough Institute. Andy Revkin, of the NYT and his blog, Dot Earth, describes this debate:

A really nice discussion of two important viewpoints. And the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant is one of my favorites.

Because collaboration can help us gain a truer understanding of the world than a single view. If the blind men talked with each other, then they could actually describe an elephant. Just as more open discussion could provide a better understanding of where to put the money.

But respect for other views is a requirement for this to work. If the blind men went around saying all the other views were full of crap, then no real understanding could occur. Same with these sorts of discussions.

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  comment []4:18:13 PM    

Bad news - A Man With A PhD

Greenland glaciers by nick_russill
Newsweek's Science Editor explains why climate change is even worse than we feared and howa consensus has developed during IPY that the Greenland ice sheet will disappear.:

[Via Climate Progress]
'Among the phrases you really, really do not want to hear from climate scientists are: "that really shocked us," "we had no idea how bad it was," and "reality is well ahead of the climate models." Yet in speaking to researchers who focus on the Arctic, you hear comments like these so regularly they begin to sound like the thumping refrain from Jaws: annoying harbingers of something that you really, really wish would go away.'

So writes Newsweek's Sharon Begley in one of the most thoughtful climate pieces ever to appear in a major national publication. She makes the very case I did in my recent post (except without the hyperlinks - the Achilles Heel of MSM science writing). For more on the International Polar Year, see The IPY: Arctic sea ice will probably not recover and their website.

One thing mentioned in the article is the much larger amount of methane held in the Arctic tundra than previously believed. When warmed up, this methane enters the atmosphere, increasing global warming. Although this is a 'natural' effect (so expect to hear deniers try to claim that man is not responsible for warming - it is the natural release from the tundra.), it is only happening due to the increased temperatures of anthropogenic production of greenhouse gases.

[More at A Man With A PhD]

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  comment []4:17:28 PM    

Not good news - A Path to Sustainable

Rapid, accelerating glacier melt:
[Via InvestigateWest]
Really bad news for North American glaciers today in a report in the Los Angeles Times. Global warming has melted glaciers in the United States at a rapid and accelerating rate over the last half-century, increasing drought risks and contributing to rising sea levels, the federal government will report today based on data from a 50-year study of glaciers in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, reporter Jim Tankersley writes. The study focused on three benchmark glaciers, the Wolverine and Gulkana in Alaska and the South Cascade Glacier in Washington, which are representative of thousands of other glaciers across the continent.

Glaciers and their runoff have been a relatively stable source of water, providing a necessary buffer against the fickleness of rainfall. But this buffer is rapidly disappearing. The South Cascade Glacier has lost 25% of its mass since the 50s.

You can read the report online with the somewhat boring title
Fifty-Year Record of Glacier Change Reveals Shifting Climate in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, USA.

Look at this series of the South Cascade Glacier:

South Casacde Glacier The USGS has been measuring the net accumulation of snow and the net loss of ice. Of interest are the two coastal glaciers, the Wolverine and the South Cascade. Both require high amount of precipitation to grow because their relatively low elevations opens them up to summer heating. Interestingly because of their locations in Alaska and Washington respectively, they tend to have negatively correlated accumulations.

[More at
Path to Sustainable]

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  comment []4:13:01 PM    

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