Bring back OP!

In some ways, it’s a shame that language is organic and evolves, because it means you really can’t roll back pronunciation to an earlier state. It’s still interesting to hear, though, and here’s a story about an effort to reconstruct the pronunciation of Shakespearean English.

The accompanying article explains some of the difficulties and ambiguities in trying to work out the way language was spoken — some are saying it would have sounded more like American English, others talk about Scots/Irish accents. In my ignorance, I’m going to lobby for a more Northern Minnesota version of Shakespearean English. I want to hear MacBeth in those Fargo accents.

Inequities breed arrogance everywhere

Paul Campos commits a really good deconstruction of the NY Times article on Jason Lieb’s resignation for harassment. He teases out all the understated assumptions in the article, and exposes the biases that minimized the consequences of Lieb’s actions…and the culpability of the institutions that have been hiring him.

But this is also a case where I’ll tell you to read the comments. They’re entertaining. The audience seems to be lawyers and the so-called softer side of academia, and they’re all talking about how the sciences get so much more money, and how so many scientists are dismissive of philosophy and the liberal arts and think the humanities are worthless, and how STEM is hostile to women.

As someone imbedded in that STEM community, I would just like to say that they’re completely right. It’s a serious problem.

I have a brand new perspective on my class this term!

I’m teaching genetics. It’s pretty much 15 weeks of pushing flies around in the lab, although I have to say I do lecture about plant and bacterial genetics, so it’s not all animal stuff. But I have learned from Cell that I’m thinking about it all wrong.


I’m now trying to figure out what kind of class this is. Am I teaching botany now? Or microbiology? Maybe flies are just ambulatory fungi now. I can never keep up with the taxonomy.

(via Björn Brembs)

The only good thing about the Iowa primaries

Finally, some of the losers get the message.

Santorum drips out — oh, wait. Sorry. Drops out. Santorum drops out.

Mike Huckabee has decided to end his presidential campaign but I think he should be forced to carry it to full term.

Rand Paul drops out of presidential race

I know. That last one isn’t funny or clever, but then, neither is Rand Paul.

Now I’m just waiting for Trump, Bush, Rubio, Cruz, Carson, Fiorina, Kasich, and Christie to get that message. Go home. You’re all bad for the country.

Creationism isn’t just an opinion, it’s bad science

You’ve all heard this kind of nonsense before, from the worst kind of ignorant creationist.

Evolution is not a fact. That’s why it’s called a theory! There’s more evidence that the Bible is true.

It’s just jam-packed with stupidity — if only we could condense science as densely as people do ignorance, we could educate everyone in a day. Evolution is a fact, there’s an immense amount of evidence for it; this person doesn’t understand the scientific meaning of “theory”; and no, there’s evidence that the Bible exists and was written by an assortment of human beings, but no evidence that it is of supernatural origin or contains a particularly accurate history of the universe.

Unfortunately, the person who wrote that pile of ineptitude was the head teacher at St Andrew’s Church of England school in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire.

She is trying to defend herself against all the scorn being poured out against her.

Amid criticism and calls for her to resign on Twitter, Wilkinson issued a statement saying: “I’d like to make it clear that we teach the full national curriculum in school and that our pupils receive a fully rounded education.”

She also said her tweet was sent from a personal account and “represents my own views”. However, her Twitter handle was @WilkinsonHead, apparently referencing her role as headteacher.

That is not an adequate defense.

I’m glad to hear that the students are getting a proper education, in spite of the incompetence of the head teacher. But one has to wonder at her capabilities to implement that education when it defies her views of science, and one has to wonder why any institution would hire someone who rejects the values of their organization.

You are certainly allowed to have your own opinions. No one is saying that you can’t have strange opinions (I have a few of those myself) — the problem is that she’s promoting her own version of facts, which are contrary to reality and unsupportable, especially in the context of education. She can go to church, if she wants (and almost certainly does), but when she publicly hectors other teachers about the proper way to teach science, a subject she obviously has no talent in, then a response that tells her loudly and clearly that she’s wrong is not out of line. It’s actually necessary.

Bad arguments are bad arguments

Amidst all the chaos of the self-proclaimed atheist leaders exposing their flaws, it’s easy to forget that they’re right about atheism. There is no god. The arguments for god are pathetic and silly. Many religious beliefs are self-destructive and poisonous. I’ve been seeing a few articles lately that are basically gloating that atheism is dead or dying because Richard Dawkins said something stupid about women’s equality…but they ignore the fact that he also said many smart things about god-belief, and the regressive nature of one guy’s antipathy towards feminism does not discredit atheism, or provide any comfort to religious advocates. It’s also particularly ironic when Catholics wag a finger at a few atheists who are blinded by privilege, while studiously ignoring that one of the biggest threats to women’s rights in the western world has been Catholic doctrine.

But as far as arguments for religions go, Dawkins doesn’t matter, and neither do the criminal activities of the Catholic church. What matters on the topic of god-belief are the qualities of the arguments. and really, they are appallingly bad. I’m not talking about just the goofy crap that comes out of lackluster minds like that of a Hovind or a Comfort, but the Big Guns of religion, like Aquinas. They are impossible to take seriously, unless one is doped to the gills with bad theology.

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It’s not just astronomers

Add molecular biology to your list of fields that have a sexual harassment problem. A biologist at the University of Chicago (where only a quarter of the senior faculty are women, the article points out) has resigned in the midst of some damning accusations.

The professor, Jason Lieb, made unwelcome sexual advances to several female graduate students at an off-campus retreat of the molecular biosciences division, according to a university investigation letter obtained by The New York Times, and engaged in sexual activity with a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent.”

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Clinton/Sanders expose American innumeracy

So Clinton and Sanders were in pretty much a dead heat in the Iowa caucuses yesterday, with Clinton edging out Sanders by a few votes. Now I’m watching people freak out over a couple of stupid facts.

  1. A few of the caucuses were settled by flipping a coin. Yes? So? The votes were tied. The rules require representatives to be selected. A coin flip is a fair way to settle which candidate will be represented, when there is a tie. I have no problem with using a chance distribution to decide, but some people are just horrified at this ‘primitive’ way of making a decision. How else do you propose to do it? Trial by combat?

  2. Most annoying are the people who are shocked that there were 6 precincts where there was a tie, and in all 6 the coin flip favored Clinton. Again, that’s to be expected, that occasionally you’ll get a run of consecutive identical results. It would be curious if you never got a run of 6. But now we’ve got all these reporters earnestly explaining trivial outcomes.

    The Iowa Democratic caucus vote count was so close last night that at least 6 precincts were decided by flipping a coin — an obscure procedure in the Iowa caucus bylaws. And in all 6 instances, the last remaining county delegate went to Hillary Clinton. Winning 6 coin tosses in a row is extraordinarily rare, and only has a 1.6 percent probability of occurring. As journalist Ben Norton explained, that’s broken down by calculating (1/2)^6, which is 1/64 — or 1.6 percent.

    This needed explaining? No wonder casinos and lotteries do so well — and no, that’s not an extraordinarily rare frequency.

    Maybe this is why so many people have difficulty grasping evolution. Small probabilities with many trials adds up to a significant likelihood.

  3. It is absurd to try and spin this into a ‘win’ for either side.

    If Bernie Sanders had won half of the coin flips and split the six county delegates three and three with Clinton, he would have finished at 698.49 delegates to Clinton’s 696.57, effectively giving him an Iowa victory. According to a live map of all Iowa precincts, Clinton has a razor-thin 0.3 percent lead over the Vermont U.S. Senator with 99.9 percent of precincts reporting.

    The race was close enough that it could wobble one way or the other on the basis of a couple of coin flips. As far as I’m concerned, it was a statistical tie, and I don’t care how many ifs you concatenate to shift it into an imaginary win for your favorite candidate.

Also, it was Iowa, and a primary. Who cares? We’ve got two Democratic candidates who are equally appealing to motivated voters in one state. This does not settle the election, and a good case could be made that it is completely irrelevant to the final outcome, which is going to hinge on far more variables.

I swear, watching pundits overanalyze this one result is almost as infuriating as the Republican slate. Stop it.

Jebus. Look at this headline at The Blaze: Hillary Clinton Has The Most Statistically Improbable Coin-Toss Luck Ever. NO IT’S NOT.