Category: Science & technology

Science Sunday: A Big Social Science Oops


Social science can be so amusing. There is a bit of a contretemps over several recent articles that used datasets supposedly measuring the personality traits of liberals and conservatives which has resulted in several abashed corrections. The researchers used the data in an effort to show that personality traits are not the cause of political attitudes, but instead both are correlated with some other factor, most likely genetic. Interesting enough. This finding is not what is being corrected.

Instead, what is being corrected is the rather casual assumption in the studies by the researchers that a personality factor identified in the datasets they used is supposedly associated with conservative political views. That factor is called Psychoticism. They hasten to explain that Pyschoticism is not the same thing as psychotic. The original article, “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies,” in the American Journal of Political Science explains:

Having a high Psychoticism score is not a diagnosis of being clinically psychotic or psychopathic. Rather, P is positively correlated with tough-mindedness, risk-taking, sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and authoritarianism (Adorno et al. 1950; Altemeyer 1996; Eysenck and Eysenck 1985, McCourt et al. 1999). In social situations, those who score high on P are more uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, and socially withdrawn, but lack feelings of inferiority and have an absence of anxiety. At the extremes, those scoring high on P are manipulative, tough-minded, and practical (Eysenck 1954). By contrast, people low on P are more likely to be more altruistic, well socialized, empathic, and conventional (Eysenck and Eysenck 1985; Howarth 1986). As such, we expect higher P scores to be related to more conservative political attitudes, particularly for militarism and social conservatism.

Well, guess what. It turned out that they’d coded their spreadsheet wrong. Higher “psychoticism” scores actually correlated with liberal beliefs, not conservative ones. So their study, cited by many liberals as proof that Conservatives Be crazy, showed the exact opposite of their conclusions.

Digression time:

The best thing about science is that it has a corrective mechanism: someone else can do the experiment and check the results and see if they’re borne out. This mechanism works well in the physical sciences, where mechanisms are fairly deterministic — no matter how many times you drop a steel ball, it will always follow the same law of gravity. It works reasonably well in the biological sciences. In biology, systems are more complex and a bit more unpredictable. On balance, heavy drinking will kill you. But there are people who drink like fish and live long lives because genes or other factors or just plain luck keep them going. You also have a problem of reproducing experiments — I can mix chemicals over and over again and weed out the bad results. But I only get to do a 40-year study of people’s eating habits once.

In the social sciences, though, all bets are off. Part of it is that you are dealing with complex systems. Economies are complex, humans are complex and we only get to live out history once. Part of it is an “observer effect”. People behave differently or even lie to researchers when they know they are part of an experiment. For example, Sweden claimed the number of men who had ever seen a prostitute dropped massively after they imposed their “Nordic Model” on sex work, which only makes sense if massive numbers of Swedish men were struck dead by the legislation. In reality, fewer men were willing to admit they had because of the social pressure.

But it’s also ideological. Physicists, chemists, engineers and biologists tend to have a mix of political views; social scientists tend to be almost exclusively liberal. Physical and biological research only occasionally has big political implications (e.g., global warming, GMOs, evolution). And even in these cases, the science is not political; the science is politicized by opportunistic politicians.

But in the social sciences, almost everything has some political implication. So results that confirm the ideological bias of the researchers sometimes isn’t questioned too carefully. Massive tomes on income inequality are praised despite serious methodological flaws. Papers supporting Keynesian economics are taken as gospel despite huge flaws. Garbage research claiming massive amount of sex trafficking is used to inform policy.

An example more germane? A lot of people have claimed that Donald Trump’s supporters are authoritarian. This sounds about right to me except … that analysis is based on sociological debris. Here are the questions used to determine if someone is authoritarian:

Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?

Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?

Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?

Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

Everyone claims this is the “definitive” test of authoritarian tendencies. Is it? Those traits seem to track culture far more than they track politics. My grandparents’ generation would have shown up as very authoritarian even though they voted FDR in four times and huge numbers of them had fled Europe because of the rise of authoritarianism. But because this test shows that conservatives are more authoritarian and all the sociologists believe that conservatives are more authoritarian, everyone accepts it.

But which is more authoritarian? Believing in a government that governs least? Or believing in a government that controls our lives? The problem here is that liberals don’t think of themselves as authoritarian even thought they are. If you believe in government controlling healthcare, education, retirement and half of the country’s wealth, you’re authoritarian, no matter how sincerely you believe that gays should be able to get married or how liberal your parenting methods are.

(This problem of nomenclature comes up a lot. I can’t find the link, but McArdle has written about a study that showed that liberals valued “fairness” more than conservatives. Every liberal scholar and pundit cited it was proof of how unfair conservative ideas were. But conservatives objected, arguing that wealth redistribution was not “fairness”. They saw it as plunder. Conservatives think that allowing people to keep what they’ve earned is “fairness”. In the end, the researchers agreed that people might differ on the definition of “fairness” and changed their word choice.)

In any case, this is yet another demonstration of how bias clouds the social sciences. This was a very basic error, something that even a modicum of checking would have shown. but no one questioned it, no referee gainsaid it, no one reproduced the results because it confirmed what liberals wanted to believe.


Who would have think that a tyrannical asshole like Nye would fall this low? Well, I did. These supposed scientists, like Nye and DeGrasse-Tyson, are nothing but left wing shills with delusions of grandeur.

Leading climate activists are warning moviegoers to shun the May 2nd nationwide one-day theater screening of “Climate Hustle,” a new film debunking climate alarmism and its big government solutions.

Bill Nye (not a real “science guy,” FYI), who entertains the idea of throwing climate skeptics in the slammer, warned the film’s producer, Climate Depot publisher Marc Morano, that “Climate Hustle’s” content endangers not just the nation, but also the world:

“I think it will expose your point of view as very much in the minority and very much not in our national interest and the world’s interest.”

U.N. Climate Scientist Michael Oppenheimer has, likewise, condemned the film – without even viewing it – for daring to dispute climate alarmism. “Marc is a propagandist,” the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientist cautions viewers.

Yeah, think hard on that. If you really believe the stuff you are peddling is science, you wouldn’t be this worried about contrary opinion. If you are peddling bullshit, having others point that out however will be detrimental. Basically a shorter Bill Nye is “drink our koolaid, and don’t let the facts get in the way”.

I am gonna buy a dozen tickets to this movie.

This is gonna piss off the proles

I am not stupid enough to believe that I need to find me a radioactive spider so I can become a webslinger, but I always felt some people, and in particular those with an agenda, exaggerated the risk of radiation. After all, radiation is everywhere. Sure Earth is blessed with a magnetic system that shields us from the brunt of the ugly stuff the sun throws at us, but the entire cosmos is about radiation, and a lot of it is not in the visible spectrum and considered to be quite harmful.

The fact of the matter is that radiation is with us at all time. Most people don’t know it, but the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Storage site was torpedoed by some devious and evil scumbags that demanded the radiation from the site be below the natural radiation occurring from the granite bed rock that was going to provide the ecological stability for the site. Yes, the earth produces radiation naturally, and we are exposed to it. I remember reading, a long time ago I admit, that many scientists believe radiation played a critical role in creating the complex organic molecules that produced life. And while the common belief is that radiation is so evil that after a nuclear war only roaches would inherit the earth, I always pointed out that since we had no reliable and measurable experience here – the effects of radiation in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and even the Nevada dessert where they tested nukes, seem to have really been exaggerated IMO – this was all conjecture.

Well, it looks like Chernobyl is now causing people to rethink radiation as well. Like with all things, what kills you isn’t that you are exposed to it, but how much of it you are exposed to. As I have already pointed out when having discussions about one topic or another around pollution, quantity is king. Shit, even too much water, a substance that is absolutely necessary for life as we know it, kills you! I remember some moron at work telling me all the men in Boston would soon grow boobs because some stupid Boston Globe article had pointed out all the water in Boston was contaminated with female hormones. I dug and found out that while they had found this contamination, it was like 3 particles per billion, meaning that someone would need to drink the equivalent of 3 lifetimes worth of water consumption for the average human to end up with the equivalent of a single hormone treatment dose. No dudes with tits there, man.

We know a lot less than we think we do, and we are learning that fact every day that science makes a new potential discovery like this one. Now beware of the Chernobyl man. I hear Khan came from something like that! Just kidding. He was the product of experimentation after the NHS doctors went on strike because of low pay and insane work hours demanded by penny pinching government bureaucrats that think doctors should earn the same amount of money as turd polishers do (all labor is worth the same!).

A story for those that believe the “Science is settled” or “Scientific consensus” nonsense

So in the age where some claim science knows it all, comes another story of how much we really still don’t know. Here is the entire article, because it bears reading:

Over the past whole year, there’s been a lot of excitement about the electromagnetic propulsion drive, also known as EM Drive – a logically impossible engine that’s challenged almost everyone’s prospects by continuing to stand up to experimental study. The EM drive is so thrilling because it yields enormous amounts of propulsion that could hypothetically blast us to Mars in only 70 days, without the need for dense and costly rocket fuel. Instead, it’s actually propelled forward by microwaves bouncing back and forth inside a sealed off chamber, and this is what makes the EM drive so powerful, and at the same time so debatable.

As effective as this kind of propulsion may sound, it challenges one of the essential concepts of physics – the conservation of momentum, which states that for anything to be propelled forward, some kind of propellant must be pushed out in the opposite direction. For that reason, the drive was generally laughed at and overlooked when it was designed by English scientist Roger Shawyer in the early 2000s. But a few years later, a group of Chinese researchers decided to construct their own version, and to everyone’s amazement, it really worked. Then an American inventor did the something just like that, and convinced NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratories, supervised by Harold ‘Sonny’ White, to give it a try. And they admitted that it actually works. Now Martin Tajmar, a well-known professor and chairman for Space Systems at Dresden University of Technology in Germany, has worked with his own EM Drive, and has once again revealed that it produces thrust – although for reasons he can’t clarify yet.

Tajmar offered his outcomes at the 2015 American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Propulsion and Energy Forum and Exposition in Florida on 27th of July, and you can read his entire paper here. He has a long history of experimentally testing (and exposing) revolutionary propulsion systems, so his outcomes are a big deal for those looking for outside confirmation of the EM Drive.

Most importantly, his system produced a parallel amount of thrust as was initially forecast by Shawyer, which is more than a few thousand times greater than a typical photon rocket.

So where does all of this leave us with the EM Drive? While it’s fun to speculate about just how revolutionary it could be for humanity, what we really need now are results published in a peer-reviewed journal – which is something that Shawyer claims he is just a few months away from doing, as David Hambling reports for Wired.

So it might turn out that we need to modify some of our laws of physics in order to clarify how the drive actually works. But if that opens up the opportunity of human travel throughout the entire Solar System – and, more significantly, beyond – then it’s a sacrifice we’re certainly willing to make.

Emphasis mine. There are many out there that claim that the laws of physics are well known and defined but as this article clearly illustrates – and believe me, there are countless other examples like this out there that you never hear about – we have still got a ton of crap that we not only don’t understand, but more importantly, think we understand, yet actually may be or are, totally wrong about.

Nothing is settled. Anyone that tells you that is a fucking moron and dangerous. Our working knowledge of the universe is in its infancy. Even basic things we take for granted might be incorrect as this article shows. And the universe is far more complex than most people can even imagine. Remember that the next time some moron with a poli-sci, failed theology, or gender studies degree tells you that we have scientific consensus or that the science is settled so they can push a political agenda. And yes, corporate bias could taint science, but nothing taints it as bad as government driven bias.

Religious fanatic wants to punish heretics.

I had to laugh at this idiotic and dangerous article by another one of the SJW morons that form the AGW priesthood. If you were to just read this stupid article, you might come away thinking that the idiot that wrote it, Michael E. Kraft, somehow has a scientist background, and thus, is to be taken seriously and even believed. This retard sure makes a call to authority with his demand that anyone not willing to just suck the cock of members of the AGW priesthood should be punished by the authorities, because “Scientific Consensus”!

I tried googling the guy, and while most of the links when followed through come up dead, I was absolutely not surprised to find out that the guy has no real scientific background to speak off: his supposed field of expertise is a fucking political science! Color me unsurprised, but to me political science ranks right up there with Astrology in scientific rigor or scientific depth, and given a choice between the two, I would rank Astrology as the more scientific of the two on the simple notion that political science is nothing but the refuge of old time collectivist douchebags and people that feel instead of reason.

People should also not be surprised that when you dig deep you find that the bulk of the supposed members of the “scientific community” that sign up to the beliefs of the AGW cult, and those that defend it the most vehemently and make demands like this one that the heretics be punished for their lack of faith, tend to be the members of the breadth of idiotic faiths that have added the terme science to what amounts to a refuge for collectivist twits and grievance mongers (it is an insult and something that detracts from other fields of study that actually amount to real disciplines to call these fucking duplicitous and garbage hangouts for the collectivist and grudge carrying dregs of society that have appropriated the term “science”).

While they are smart enough to never do so in public, and definitely not in the academic community, members of the real scientific disciplines – physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, and the hard engineering disciplines (sorry social engineering) – laugh at those that belong those other jokes that have appropriated the word science to lend credence to the idiotic cargo cults, and they do so for a good reason. If you fall under the umbrella of “social” or “soft” science, you are part of a group of idiots that believes in and engages in practices that are anything but following rigorous scientific principles and/or methods. If you dare to point this out however, these fucking idiots will use the political correctness machine, by appealing to authority and resorting to the most mean spirited and despicable tactics you can imagine to destroy you. Which is exactly what Kraft is doing in this article.

When you have no real scientific claim to make a stand on, but you have a politically driven agenda you want to push, you are a faith. That’s also when you demand the heretics be punished for daring to defy your “scientific consensus”, a term that absolutely clarifies you are engaged in something wholly unscientific. Fuck the lot of you.

No, You Can’t Sue, Part Duh

I’ve made it clear where I stand on global warming: I think it’s real, I think we are causing it, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be bad, I don’t think our government has a clue what to do about it. Yet, I feel very comfortable saying that this is bullshit:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) today denounced a subpoena from Attorney General Claude E. Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands that attempts to unearth a decade of the organization’s materials and work on climate change policy. This is the latest effort in an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate debate, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore.

“CEI will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association for Attorney General Walker to bring such intimidating demands against a nonprofit group,” said CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman. “If Walker and his allies succeed, the real victims will be all Americans, whose access to affordable energy will be hit by one costly regulation after another, while scientific and policy debates are wiped out one subpoena at a time.”

The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016.

This isn’t coming out of nowhere. Several climate activists have bene calling for precisely this sort of investigation for a while and several other AG’s have been pondering such a move. But while I strongly disagree with the CEI about the reality of climate change, this is an extremely chilling move (no pun intended).

Walter Olson again:

If the forces behind this show-us-your-papers subpoena succeed in punishing (or simply inflicting prolonged legal harassment on) groups conducting supposedly wrongful advocacy, there’s every reason to think they will come after other advocacy groups later. Like yours.

This is happening at a time of multiple, vigorous, sustained legal attacks on what had been accepted freedoms of advocacy and association. As I note in a new piece at Cato, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just demanded that the Securities and Exchange Commission investigate several large corporations that have criticized her pet plan to impose fiduciary legal duties on retirement advisors, supposedly on the ground that it is a securities law violation for them to be conveying to investors a less alarmed view of the regulations’ effect than they do in making their case to the Labor Department. This is not particularly compelling as securities law, but it’s great as a way to chill speech by publicly held businesses.

Make no mistake. This isn’t about racketeering and it certainly isn’t about science. It’s about shutting people up. And as a defender of free speech, I will defend it for everyone. The CEI is not engaged in criminal conduct. Nor are they part of a shadow conspiracy of evil oil interests to wreck the planet. At worst, they are guilty of deception in talking about global warming. More likely, they are guilty of motivated reasoning, rejecting global warming because they don’t want it to be true. Neither of those things is a crime. McArdle, on the similar BS inquiry into Exxon Mobil:

State attorneys general including Walker held a press conference last week to talk about the investigation of ExxonMobil and explain their theory of the case. And yet, there sort of wasn’t a theory of the case. They spent a lot of time talking about global warming, and how bad it was, and how much they disliked fossil fuel companies. They threw the word “fraud” around a lot. But the more they talked about it, the more it became clear that what they meant by “fraud” was “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave the game away when he explained that they would be pursuing completely different theories in different jurisdictions — some under pension laws, some consumer protection, some securities fraud. It is traditional, when a crime has actually been committed, to first establish that a crime has occurred, and then identify a perpetrator. When prosecutors start running that process backwards, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re looking at prosecutorial power run amok.

Frankly, the CEI is an odd place to start if we’re going to start bashing anti-science people. The CEI, at worst, is delaying action on a climate crisis that might have negative effects in the future (pushing aside pseudoscientific theories that global warming created ISIS and such). But anti-GMO activists, by contrast, are killing people right now. They’re preventing the use of the golden rice which could stop thousands of people from going blind right now. And don’t get me started on the anti-Vaxxers. But you don’t hear anyone talk of prosecuting them. Why not? Because they’re not associated with Evil Big Oil.

This is garbage. Attorneys General who engage in this sort of tyrannical lawfare need to hounded out of office. This is a companion to my post below on lawsuits against gun companies and it has the same principle: the law is not a weapon to use against people you disagree with. Because once we establish that it is, it will take about ten seconds for that law to be used against your interests.


So this happened:

In a major setback for President Obama’s climate change agenda, the Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the administration’s effort to combat global warming by regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The brief order was not the last word on the case, which is most likely to return to the Supreme Court after an appeals court considers an expedited challenge from 29 states and dozens of corporations and industry groups.

But the Supreme Court’s willingness to issue a stay while the case proceeds was an early hint that the program could face a skeptical reception from the justices.

The 5-to-4 vote, with the court’s four liberal members dissenting, was unprecedented — the Supreme Court had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court.

That last part is true. However, it is also true that we have never had the federal government try to enforce a far-reaching rule like Obama’s coal regulations over the objections of Congress, over the rights of the states and through a highly contentious (and likely unconstitutional) reading of the Clean Air Act. Ilya Shapiro:

In June 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule for regulating power-plant emissions. Despite significant criticism, on August 3, 2015, it announced a final rule. It gives states until 2018 — it “encourages” September 2016 — to develop final plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, with mandatory compliance beginning in 2022. EPA cites Section 111 of the Clean Air Act as justification for the Clean Power Plan, but that section can’t give the agency such authority. Section 111(d) doesn’t permit the government to require states to regulate pollutants from existing sources when those pollutants are already being regulated under Section 112, as those deriving from coal-fired plants are.

I think global warming is real and reducing carbon emissions is important. But it’s clear to me that the EPA does not have the authority to do this unilaterally. And it’s also clear to me that, with such a bitterly contested rule, the Court is right to stay implementation until the issue has been decided. We’re not just talking about an enormous burden on the states and power plants. We’re talking about a fundamental change in the way the EPA does business. You don’t just start doing that when there’s a very good chance you’ll be stopping it a few months from now.

Update: There are some indications that the White House may proceed anyway in defiance of the Court. What will it take for Congress to act here?

Gravitational Waves

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, two black holes were orbitting each other. As time went on, they began to spiral into each other, in accord with our understanding of relativity. Eventually, they merged into a single black hole, an event an unimaginable violence. The physical laws of the universe would have been strained to their very limits. The collision was so violent, it created massive ripples in the fabric of spacetime itself.

Those ripples propagated out into the universe, growing fainter and fainter. Over 1.3 billion years after the event, they traversed an utterly insignificant little blue green planet orbiting a small unregarded yellow sun in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy.

Such things had probably happened billions of times in the history of the Universe. Only this time, the clever apes that occupy that planet were looking.

A team of physicists who can now count themselves as astronomers announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prophecy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago (Listen to it here.). And it is a ringing (pun intended) confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory.

More generally, it means that scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest.

The search for gravitational waves has been going on for a couple of decades and through a previous version of LIGO. Each time, our sensitivity has not been quite good enough to pick up gravitational waves. This time, they were. In fact, this signal was detected very early on in the LIGO run, surprising everyone. At the time, there was a wide range of predictions for how many gravitational waves LIGO would detect. A lot of people thought it wouldn’t detect any. This was a very solid detection (and the paper is refereed, so it has been through the vetting process).


I was involved in this in a small way, helping look for the potential astronomical sources of the gravity waves. Almost a year ago, I was in Pasadena, meeting with a group of astronomers and physicists to try to figure out what to do if a gravitational wave was detected. We were cautiously pessimistic about whether one would be detected simply because detecting one is so damned hard. LIGO’s announcement of a clear detection (among four possible detections) is exciting and wonderful news. And now that we’ve found them, we’re looking ahead to the next run to see if we can find something even more spectacular. This one was very far away — 1.3 billion light years. Maybe the next one will be closer so that we can study it in depth.

(While in Pasadena, I got to see a smaller test version of LIGO. It was incredibly impressive. The real thing has two 4-kilometer long vacuum-tube laser arrays and can detect vibrations smaller than a proton. The engineering alone is worth a Nobel Prize.)

For more, you can read Phil Plait, who goes through how the experiment works. Or check out this video from PhD Comics.

Science. It works.


Today is the 10th anniversary of Man-bear-pig’s prediction, that in 10 years, if the left was not allowed to institute the draconian and freedom robbing rules that are part and parcel of the SJWs on humanity, that the world would end.

The left has not really gotten its way despite the orchestrated anti-science consensus shaming campaign, so I am now going to hunker down in my basement and wait for the end…..

No, seriously…