How many coffees a year would it take to power the search for extraterrestrial life?

This is a serious eye-opener. 40,000 coffees could fund another year of searching for life amongst the already-discovered Earth-like exoplanets. This infographic is a sequel to this other one you might have already seen.

The Allen Telescope Array was shut down for being too expensive to run under the current government’s attempts at curtailing unnecessary spending. Mind you, Obama is continuing Bush’s two wars and starting a new one in Libya, so honestly, it’s not like they aren’t spending money frivolously on foreign adventures as it stands. At least they could be funding the most foreign adventure of all in space research. I couldn’t tell you why over 600 billion dollars in military budget per annum is necessary but 2.5 million for scientific research is “too frivolous”… it’s like saying that you need to bubble-gum and scotch-tape your utilitarian K-Car to barely meet inspection, while your Lear jet idles 24/7 in its hanger.

The graphic is huge, so I put it below the fold.

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Gay couple cage, beat adopted son to death in Chicago

Note to people coming from THIS POST CONTAINS HEAVY SARCASM. Read everything past the last blockquote. Jesus fuck, some people are dense.

Two incredible and incredibly synchronous events came across my feed reader today, events that may change my mind about a lot of things that I’ve blogged about in the past. This may be a relatively difficult post to get through, but bear with me.

It was recently discovered that thirteen-year-old Christian Choate was beaten to death in Chicago after years of physical and mental abuse by his (I presume adopted) parents, Riley Choate and Kimball Kubina. The gay couple removed Christian from school claiming to then home-school him, but instead kept him locked in the bathroom most of the time. They eventually upgraded his accomodations, locking him in a dog cage bought from a neighbor during the last year of Christian’s short life after Christian had made an escape attempt from the bathroom prison and was found and retrieved at the local drug store.

Even more disturbing than the simple fact of his incarceration were the home-schooling subjects Kubina gave to Christian to complete:

Kubina wrote topics on top of some of the pages including, “Why do you want to play with your peter? Why do you still want to see your mom? Why can’t you let the past go? What does it mean to be part of a family?” DCS records state.

Thankfully, this horrible mental abuse lasted only as long as it did before one of Riley’s blows mercifully ended Christian’s tortured existence. The family then buried Christian in a shallow grave, covered the grave with concrete, then moved to Kentucky where Christian’s disappearance would go unnoticed and his body undiscovered for two years. This is a brutal example of exactly how inhumane gay people can be, and it’s a sad testament to the state of families today if couples like this can get the license to adopt and destroy the lives of young children.

Meanwhile, in New York, gay marriage is now legal after a vote in a Republican state senate that can only be described as historic.

When New York’s state Senate passed the bill, 33-to-29, cheers of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” erupted in the chamber. The historic vote followed an 80-to-63 vote in the state Assembly last week (the fourth time the lower house had passed a marriage equality bill) — and more than a week of parliamentary maneuvers by conservatives and Republicans to keep the bill from coming to a vote. In the end, the Senate passed the bill into law despite a Republican majority and despite the G.O.P. making gains in the 2008 election. Although gay marriage has yet to win a single statewide referendum, its legislative success in New York on Friday shows that it is quickly advancing in nearly every other way, from legal victories in California courts and throughout the federal judiciary to an increasingly enthusiastic ally in the White House.

I can’t help but think of all the damaged lives that will result if these inherently chaotic and depraved gay people continue making inroads — first they get marriage, then they get discrimination-free adoption, then they can kill all the babies that us breeders couldn’t care for in a disturbing display of social Darwinism. This truly is a slippery slope.

Thankfully, there are organizations like the National Organization of Marriage to defend sanity in this upside-down world. They’re pledging to devote $2 million to overturn this legalization of child-murder gay marriage “to make sure Republicans get this message loud and clear: Voting for gay marriage has consequences.” NOM operates in defense of traditional Christian values like marriage being only for men and women, who are then free to breed as stipulated by the Bible: “Go forth and multiply.” Since there’s no prerequisite for heterosexuals to have children, there’s nothing stopping them from having healthy, happy Christian children in this crazy world — so long as organizations like NOM exist to defend marriage’s inherent heterosexuality.

At least there’s some small glimmer of hope in this ridiculously backward world. Riley and Kimball were both charged:

Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina have been charged with murder, battery, neglect of a dependent, confinement, obstruction of justice, moving a body from a death scene and failure to notify authorities of a dead body. They have both pleaded not guilty.



Now why did I read that as Kimball?

Carry on, those of you who came expecting Christians to stand up against the real villains in this world. Nothing to see here.

Latest Catholic sex scandal: priest under Pope’s adviser arrested

Feel the cops’ breath on your neck yet, Ratzinger?

Father Riccardo Seppia, a 51-year-old parish priest in the village of Sastri Ponente, near Genoa, was arrested last Friday, May 13, on pedophilia and drug charges. Investigators say that in tapped mobile-phone conversations, Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters with young and vulnerable boys. “I do not want 16-year-old boys but younger. Fourteen-year-olds are O.K. Look for needy boys who have family issues,” he allegedly said. Genoa Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, who is the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, had been working with Benedict to establish a tough new worldwide policy, released this week, on how bishops should handle accusations of priestly sex abuse.

According to investigators, Seppia told a friend — a former seminarian and barman who is currently under investigation — that the town’s malls were the best places to entice minors. In tapped phone conversations the two cursed and swore against God. The priest is charged with having attempted to kiss and touch an underage altar boy and of having exchanged cocaine for sexual intercourse with boys over 18.

At what point do we get to claim there’s a correlation between being a member of the ecclesiasty of a sexually repressive religion, and having a set of sexual proclivities that might be best repressed? At what point do we get to claim that perhaps this correlation is causal? And at what point do we get to say, “look, being a member of a religion does not make you more moral or a better contributing member of society than those of us without religion?”

Update: my original title “Latest Catholic sex scandal: Pope’s adviser arrested” was wrong, it’s a priest under the Pope’s adviser, not the adviser himself. I actually understood this from the original article, but screwed up on the title in my linking post. Sorry if I gave anyone the wrong impression. Said adviser handled the situation thusly:

Genoa Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, who is the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, had been working with Benedict to establish a tough new worldwide policy, released this week, on how bishops should handle accusations of priestly sex abuse.

Bagnasco said that when he met the Pope this weekend, he “asked for a particular blessing for my archdiocese” in light of the alleged crimes, adding that “like every father toward a son [feels] great pain in seeing a priest who is not faithful to his vocation.”

Oh yeah. REAL tough. Protect the diocese, not the children. And call the priest a bad apple in the meantime. No true Scotsman, you see.

Epic Rap Battles of History: Ben Franklin vs Billy Mays

I didn’t think I’d like the other stuff, after Einstein vs Hawking pretty much set the bar as high as it could go. Spoiler: when Billy Mays dies near the end, it’s about to get really epic.

Hat tip to Clifton, who according to my blog statistics, despite not having posted in forever, is somehow still the third most frequent commenter behind me and Dan J.

I should never have looked at those stats. Damn, do I ever post a lot on my own blog. Wow.

Why are Republicans and media pundits really trying to eviscerate Social Security?

These accusations are interesting, plausible, and if true, potentially damaging to one of the greatest successes Democrats (and the beneficiaries of the program, of course) have had in the States. The few facts I know about Social Security are that a) it is not in danger of bankruptcy, the retirement age was raised from 62 when started in 1938 to 67 today (including deferment benefits for workers that keep working til 70), and that according to Milton Friedman, a demigod amongst conservatives, it actually disproportionately benefits the rich.

Friedman claims this is by virtue of the pay-in cap where you only have to pay a percentage of your wages into Social Security up to a certain salary, after which you no longer get “taxed”. You get the full benefit of payment regardless of how close to the pay-in you actually managed to make, so high-income folks get to withdraw much more than they made. Additionally, where mean life expectancy is determined by how much money you have to pay into hospitals, poor people live shorter, and may never collect from the social security fund while rich people who live longer will likely withdraw more than they paid in.

Since this is one of those memes best combatted by information, I’m happy to spread this message, though I’m skeptical without the real numbers. If there’s a risk of insolvency, why couldn’t they just lift the cap since even Lord Friedman suggests it’s configured unfairly? Why must the program be gutted and old people be put even more at risk of dying poor, underfed and without medical care?

Rand Paul: “How much food do the elderly REALLY need, anyway?”

I paraphrase of course, but not by much.

The point of absurdity comes when you don’t realize that spending 2 billion on giving elderly food translates into well more than 2 billion in medical care savings. Yes, it’s well possible to save money by spending money on preventive care, and it’s even possible to figure out mathematically exactly where returns start to diminish. For example, doing yearly maintenance on your car saves you from having to buy a new car when it rots to pieces and you total it on the highway. And in the medical reality of the States, it probably also saves you from going bankrupt when you’re taken to the emergency room.

All you have to do is damn well put your ideology aside and look at the numbers. Can you do that, Rand? I’m guessing not, given your namesake and your political bent.

Deepak Chopra vs Leonard Mlodinow

“I’ve never encountered a definition of ‘consciousness’ that I understand.”

“A superposition of possibilities.”

“Uh… I know what each of those words means…”

The concept of infinity is mathematical, not spiritual. Deepak Chopra regularly borrows scientific terms of profession and strings them together in ways that simply do not correlate with reality. He’s really quite good at pulling the wool over the eyes of the common folk, but when encountering someone with the least bit of technical training, his bluster is all too easily exposed for what it is.

It’s a shame his nonsense makes so many people feel so good about themselves. What respite they gain from the harshness of this world in his aphorisms, they pay for tenfold in their own faculties.

Fellow racists come to the defense of Kanazawa

Or: wherein Stephanie Zvan shows us little folks exactly how we can step in and bloody the nose of a bloody bigot with a PhD.

This man has a thing or two to say about attractiveness. Hello ladies. (from the good doctor's personal website)

In case you haven’t heard of this ongoing debacle, Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa recently published a rather controversial article claiming that black women are objectively less attractive. This study was published in Intelligence, a journal well-known for its persistent use of IQ as a valid measure of intelligence despite the academic dissent that IQ does not measure any one single thing and therefore can’t be used as a metric to study anything but the weak causal relationship IQ scores have with actual intelligence. When Dr. Kanazawa was presented with a good deal of dissent about the methods by which he produced the study, he went on to blog on Psychology Today about the study’s validity, claiming some interesting just-so hypotheses to explain why his results were correct, rather than engaging with the criticisms. The blog post was almost immediately retracted and Psychology Today apologized for the distress it caused.

This touched off a firestorm, mostly in that Kanazawa evidently has a history of not engaging with critiques of his papers contemporaneously. A number of scientists rallied to his defense, claiming that Kanazawa was “Sinned Against, Not Sinning”. There’s just one problem with the defense rallied: the defenders claimed that any critiques must needs be made in the journals themselves, and once past peer review, the paper is beyond reproach.

Oh, sorry. There’s just TWO problems with the defense. Stephanie Zvan points out the other with much relish (and you people had better bloody click through to that link!):

There are legitimate discussions to be had on the role of peer-review feedback in shaping the final published product. However, having that discussion and recasting a complaint about Kanazawa’s resistance to incorporating feedback are two very different things. Also, given what the criticism of Kanazawa actually was (that he doesn’t interact with feedback prior to publication) it seems a little odd to note that he incorporates feedback into later work. If the criticism is important enough to be dealt with, wouldn’t he produce stronger papers by dealing with it up front?

But back to the letter. There are a few short paragraphs providing information about two times Kanazawa later responded to criticism, followed by this closing:

Finally, we believe that the proper place to make criticisms of academic papers is in the journals in which they were published, not in letters to the press where they cannot be adequately answered.

Sorry, Stephanie, I have to interject to say: are you fucking kidding?

Okay, go ahead.

This–this!–is what makes this letter so entertaining. Even forgetting that Kanazawa brought himself and his work into the general public eye by writing a blog post about his “findings,” this is the richest vein of irony I’ve mined in some time. You see, while the idea that scientific ideas and their validity should be hashed out in journals is relatively common among scientists, it’s pretty rare among the signatories to this letter.

Oh. Wait. Turns out she wasn’t kidding, they actually said that. Stephanie even got published in The Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding, as though to underscore my disbelief.

She goes on to list an easy pickings set of links that show times when each signatory to the defense letter actually blogged about science in public, in direct contrast with their professed beliefs. I personally see no harm in blogging about science, engaging with your audience (and in many cases, with audiences that aren’t actually normally “yours” to begin with). It gives you perspective you might not otherwise be exposed to, and can oftentimes provide a baffle against the temptation to insulate yourself into an echo chamber. What I DO see harm in, is in ignoring valid criticisms outright, especially when they’re coming from people with as good of credentials (or better). Simply ignoring criticisms and carrying on as though your work is totally valid and the points they’ve made so utterly incompetent as to not merit consideration is galling. It’s the type of thing you see when someone has an unfalsifiable belief and they move the goal posts right in front of you when you provide them with evidence that they’re wrong.

Engaging with your critics and surmounting their criticisms is a fundamental part of the scientific process, and I can’t help but think that your science would come out all the better for it if people point out the flaws and you amend your work to compensate. You know, amend your CURRENT work. Not simply “incorporating the dissent” into future works. Especially when those future works are also apologetic to a cause you’re evidently trying to advance, despite precious little valid data to back you up.

Stephanie’s list of links also has a bit of a secondary trend, which I’m sure is not accidental. Each of the blog posts she links to seems to have a fairly controversial bent, regarding all manner of things from eugenics to speeches in front of White Nationalist conventions to the “perils of diversity” to defense of sweatshops. The common theme to all of them appears to be a generalized defense of racism. Considering Kanazawa’s paper, considering Kanazawa’s already controversial history, and considering the vast criticism leveled against his academic practices, the defense paper’s purpose is all too transparent: protect one of your own.

One question that Stephanie raised piqued my interest: “Someone for whom impact factor is a big deal will have to do the research on whether the letter writers are correct [in asserting Kanazawa's been published by many high-impact journals], but I would love to see the results.” As she and I both point out, Intelligence is fairly high-impact, but also high-controversy — it caters almost exclusively to people who believe IQ is actually worth something. It will therefore be cited very heavily by scientists who believe likewise. This may or may not be a self-feeding subculture of scientists, who may or may not be engaging in an amount of cherry-picking, bias, or other scientific fallacies that depend on people desperately wanting to be right even at the cost of parsimony with reality. It is akin to scientists in the Creation Science field, wherein people presume Goddidit and the science must flow from that initial premise or it is out of orthodoxy with their subculture.

I’m working on finding impact studies for each of these journals in which Kanazawa was published. I found an Excel spreadsheet of journals from 2007 with their Thomson Reuters impact factors, but his papers span from 1992 through 2011, and it would be unfair to provide a snapshot view of the impact of these journals in only 2007.

If I can’t find anything more recent (e.g., if nobody provides me with a login for the current Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports tool), I’ll put together a follow-up blog post with the numbers from 2007, with a scale as to where they fall in the “impact factor” for that trade. I might also have to eliminate some of the top journals in the field, as a number of them appear to act as aggregators and get disproportionately high journal impact which would skew the point I intend to make: that the journals Kanazawa is published in, are not in fact “high-impact” by any reasonable standard as implied by his defenders.