Garbage in, garbage all over the place

I just bumped into this 2 year old article in Forbes. Forbes is all sober, serious, conservative bullshit, right? This piece isn’t sober at all. It’s about post-apocalyptic visions of the future and how billionaires are buying up vast tracts of land far away from the coast because they know what’s going to happen. Normally, I wouldn’t put it past billionaires to pull off all kinds of perfidious schemes, but in this case, I suspect it’s more that lots of acreage is available and cheap far inland, rather than that they’re preparing for doomsday.

You just have to look at the sources.

In the early 1980’s, spiritual visionaries and futurists provided clues to our changing planet. Often dismissed as crazy prophets, their thoughts for a new world were quickly ignored and laughed at. Gordon-Michael Scallion was a futurist, teacher of consciousness studies and metaphysics and a spiritual visionary. In the 80’s he claims to have had a spiritual awakening that helped him create very detailed maps of future world, all stemming from a cataclysmic pole shift. The result, while not based on any science, nonetheless provides a vivid and compelling picture of an Earth ravaged by flooding.

My emphasis. Note also that Gordon-Michael Scallion was a co-host on Coast to Coast AM, that pioneering talk radio show that let the conservative world know you could get away with saying anything you wanted on radio.

So, in the event of a post asteroid apocalypse, where are the safest territories in the world? According to several prognosticators and much criticized theorists, here is the detailed list of predicted land changes based on geological positioning. All post polar shift predictions are based on theories from Gordon-Michael Scallion, Edgar Cayce and others, and should not be construed as fact.

I haven’t heard the name of Edgar Cayce invoked seriously in decades. I wonder if people have forgotten who he was? He was called the “sleeping prophet”, because he’d do clairvoyant readings while pretending to be asleep, and made all kinds of goofy predictions and claims of past history (he was big on Atlantis stories and reincarnation). But that’s enough to tell you about the quality of the pile of maps which are published. In Forbes. With an author admitting that they’re not science-based.

Gosh. I’m going to have to buy me some ocean-front property in Nebraska while it’s cheap. I am a bit baffled about how so much of Florida remains above the waves while a big chunk of Colorado is flooded, though. And if you’re going to include Atlantis and Lemuria, you ought to also mark the location of R’lyeh.

Pounded in the Butt by Our Carnivore Diet

I read a curious book last night…well, more like skimmed an odd and repetitious assortment of short transcripts. Jordan & Mikhaila Peterson – Our Carnivore Diet: How to cure Depression and Disease with Meat only: Revised Transcripts and Blogposts. Featuring Dr. Shawn Baker was available for free on Kindle Unlimited, so I downloaded it.

It’s bad.

The cover is a hint. It’s a poor Photoshop with sloppy layout, the kind of thing you’d see on a self-published romance novel with the smiling heroine in front in her best bikini, and in the background the brooding, rich Heathcliff she’s going to win over…except, oh dear, that’s her father in the swim trunks. Seriously, Dr Peterson, you’re rich enough to hire a graphics pro to do the design. Chuck Tingle could have done a far better job, and would have at least thrown in a few dinosaurs and a sentient physical manifestation or two.

The contents are worse. The first chapter is a transcript of an interview with Steve Paikin (who?). The second and third are transcripts of interviews with Joe Rogan (yeesh). The fourth is a transcript of a podcast with Robb Wolf (?). The fifth is a transcript of…you get the idea. Then there are a couple of extracted blog posts, and a bonus(!) transcript of some carnivore diet proponent named Shawn Baker (who? again). And they’re all the same!

All can be summarized similarly. Jordan Peterson or Mikhaila Peterson talk with a sympathetic host about how miserable their lives were, and how Mikhaila was afflicted with these terrible idiopathic diseases and Jordan was so depressed. I believe that part. Mikhaila had rheumatoid arthritis to such a terrible degree that she had hip and ankle joints replaced with prosthetics, and Jordan always comes across as a sad sack. They were really sick! And then they say they got better when they started cutting stuff out of their diet, finally getting down to nothing but beef and salt and water. Yay! They found the cure! And the gullible hosts praise them.

Except, I would say two things. They were suffering from real but idiopathic diseases. All “idiopathic” means is that the doctors don’t know the causes. Have they considered the fact that their “cure” is also idiopathic? I accept that they say they feel better now, but we don’t know that their all-meat diet has anything at all to do with it, and announcing that they have the universal CURE in a book title is classic quackery.

The second issue is that every chapter in their book is a repetitive recital of the same damn things: the same two people describing their complaints and their history, in nearly the same words, in public broadcasts over and over. If you repeat the same anecdote 11 times, it doesn’t magically transform into empirical data.

After reading their best case summary of their diet, I am not at all tempted to try it. In fact, I’ve gone the opposite way in my life, cutting way back on meat and enjoying a vegetarian diet, and I feel pretty good.

If I repeat that sentence 11 times would you find that a compelling reason that you should conform to my dietary rules? I would hope not.

Maybe if I also put a photo of my wife in a bikini on the cover?

The IDW is f*cking embarrassing

I’ll always enjoy seeing Steven Pinker, Sam Harris and the epidemic of annoying white male intellectuals ragged on — and generally, any member of the Intellectual Dork Web deserves a thorough savaging. This one is good because it documents specific examples of Pinker and Harris being bad scholars, and shows how their fellow travelers flock to defend even their more egregious errors. I have to agree with its conclusions.

The point is that the entire IDW movement is annoying. It’s really, really annoying — its champions misrepresent positions without their (mostly white male) audience knowing, and then proceed to “embarrass” the opposition. They embrace unsupported claims when it suits their narrative. They facilely dismiss good critiques as “hit jobs” and level ad hominem attacks to undercut criticism. And they refuse — they will always refuse, it’s what overconfident white men do — to admit making mistakes when they’re obviously wrong. I am annoyed, like Robinson, mostly because I expected so much better from the most popular “intellectuals” of our time.

“Intellectuals” seems to be acquiring a new meaning here in the 21st century. It refers to well-off white people who use their illusion of academic prestige to defend 18th century ideas against all reason, as long as they bolster the status quo.

Crawl back into the bushes, you poseurs.

Children are to be sold quietly to billionaires, not heard

In case you were wondering what the worst reaction to Greta Thunberg might be, let’s look in on a Libertarian Communist Catholic’s (what?) opinion:

He’s not even being provocative! He just thinks girls can’t have credible opinions if raping them makes you a pedophile.

That’s probably the Catholic side of his bio speaking. Well, maybe the Libertarian side, too.

By the way, he’s quite proud of his tweet, and is bragging that Twitter didn’t see any problems with it, either.

When rationalism goes wrong, it really goes wrong

I could almost believe this little essay, You Can Learn How To Become More Rational, is pure satire, except that I’ve seen too many people sincerely holding these nonsensical views, and it cites a source that is packed to the gills with precisely this advice. It takes pains to tell you where their authority comes from.

LessWrong is a community blog devoted to “refining the art of human rationality.” The blog is led by artificial intelligence theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky.
A charitable organization which Yudkowsky founded has received $1.1 million from Peter Thiel, and Yudkowsky has given a talk on rationality at Thiel’s hedge fund.

Oy. The vampire wanna-be has lots and lots of money, and he gave some to Yudkowsky, therefore these must be good ideas. Rationality!

Then comes a list of 10 things you can do that range from banal to LessWrong dogma and cant, but I’m only going to mention the last one…because hoo boy, it’s a doozy.

10. Become More Awesome.
Possible means: master mental math, learn mnemonics, play n-back, become a lucid dreamer, learn symbolic shorthand, study Esperanto, exercise, eat better, become a PUA (if you’re a single male), deliberately expose yourself to rejection so you become less afraid of it, learn magic tricks or juggling, memorize information using spaced repetition, understand Bayes’ theorem, become a faster typer, challenge your senses by wearing a blindfold, eye patch, or colored goggles, stop using your dominant hand for a week, learn self-defense, or get trained in First Aid.

Wow.

I mean, that’s just…wow.

So, learn gimmicky party tricks and become an asshole pick-up artist is the same as being “awesome”? Rationality!

I hereby refuse to ever be awesome. I’ve got better things to do.

Unless…if I wear colored goggles for a week, will Peter Thiel give me a million dollars?

Real Seattle pride

He would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those pesky kids.

Today, Seattle Proud Boy Zac Staggs attempted to infiltrate the #ClimateStrike march in black bloc gear, but was reportedly identified immediately under his mask and got beat up… at an event organized by high schoolers.

Good on the Seattle antifa for catching out this clown…and the high school kids who exposed him.

Note also what the “Proud Boy’s” right foot is stepping in. So appropriate!

The Pragerization of YouTube

I’ve been naughty and haven’t made any YouTube videos in a while (I have to change that, if only I had time), but would you believe I still get comments on stuff I made months ago? Here’s a recent comment made on my video about Jordan Peterson’s PragerU video on those darned liberal arts universities. It’s all racist talking points while accusing Democrats of being racist, but of course they wander all over the place with all kinds of random boogity-boos.

Why does school cost so much? Gov offers more loan money to students who have no business being in school. Then what does the wonderful university do? Yep you guessed it raise tuition. The whole alt right dog whistle thing is a low blow, so far from the truth. Why do some left Leaning universities like Berkeley try and ban Ben Shapiro? Does he have alt right dog whistles lol 😂. Mr. left professor how many genders are there? Another question do support or oppose the death penalty? Are you pro choice or pro life? Those two questions can tell a lot about someone. The left has done more harm to this country then good. Democrats and slavery, kkk, Jim Crow. Once the blacks switched parties in the thirties it’s been all down hill. The more black government officials at the county, city levels the more corruption. Teachers unions have ensured the black inner kids a horrendous education. That fucking pisses me off that unions and make no mistake they give more campaign money to democrats and it has caused inner city schools to be horrible. I’m sorry I don’t care as much about men and women transitioning into whatever they want to be called as much as Obama did. When Obama and his education secretary saw how bad things were they said they needed to act. Well still waiting President Obama! Let’s be perfectly honestly the Left doesn’t care about black kids if they did there would be vouchers and choice. The thing is everybody knows what needs to happen but it would cost the Democrats dearly at election time. I say once and for all stop oppressing black people.

So much incoherence and contradictions! I should whip up a video about how there are far more than two genders, to pick just one example of its nonsense.

My little video focused on just one collection of bogus claims by one cranky Canadian fart, but PragerU is a far more poisonous set of lies than that…and yet somehow they’ve avoided the mass demonetizations that afflict my liberal friends, or even the raving right wing nutcases. Money greases a lot of wheels at Google, I guess. Rather than wasting a lot of time on this one fool’s comment, I’ll just point you at this recent analysis of PragerU.

It’s not enough to just say that PragerU isn’t an actual university. It’s outright propaganda, and those appearing on the channel are propagandists.

As an institution, PragerU has proved to be toxic, and it should be best understood as — as its “About Us” page notes — a “digital marketing campaign.” If one of Prager University’s goals really is to “[make] the world a better place, five minutes at a time,” it deserves a failing grade for its current output.

Totally unsurprising Epsteinism

You just knew that Jeffrey Epstein had to have had this conversation over and over again.

“He hates every story starting with ‘billionaire pervert,’” Mr. Hay said. “Jeffrey had long stories about the difference between pedophilia with very young children and tweens and teens a little older.” He added, “It was his way of trying to talk his way around it.”

“Long stories”? Oh, do tell. Let’s hear them. Was Lawrence Krauss a receptive audience for these stories?

On second thought, no. I don’t have a puke bucket on hand. These may come out in the trial, though, so I think I’m going to have to avoid reading the transcripts.


Here’s something else to avoid reading: the official charges against Epstein. Not safe for work if you move your lips while reading.

I almost felt pity for evolutionary psychology

I detest evolutionary psychology. I consider it to be bad evolutionary biology, bad psychology, and just plain bad science. But there is something I detest even more, and that’s when evolutionary psychologists try to confidently explain why I dislike evolutionary psychology, and get everything wrong. Today I stumbled across a masterpiece of the genre, which on top of every other problem, is incredibly badly written to the point of incoherence.

It’s titled “Four Reasons why Evolutionary Psychology is Controversial”, by Bernard Crespi. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t even consider the idea that maybe it’s just wrong. He charges off with a bunch of assertions about why some people dislike it, and misses the mark most of the time.

Evolutionary psychology, like sociobiology or Marxism, has become associated with controversy. Why should it, and why has it? Yes, debates about evolution totter endlessly along, and psychology remains a discipline that sometimes seems orphaned by both humanities and the hard sciences.

So evolution is “controversial”?; but it isn’t, not among scientists. Likewise, psychology isn’t controversial. It’s a real science tackling some of the most complex phenomena we know of, human behavior. There are healthy debates about specifics and methodology and even some general principles, but this doesn’t mean they’re “controversial” as a whole.

Why should combining psychology and evolution ignite a confabulation of loathing, fear, and scientific vitriol?

This is what I mean by incoherence. He’s just said evolution is controversial, and psychology is controversial, and now asks, why should combining two controversial things be controversial? His thesis is a mess. I would say instead that the question is about why forcing two different & valid disciplines together would produce an unpopular mish-mash, but that’s not where he’s going. Among other things, he’s going to express contempt for psychology, and argue that the virtue of evolution is its extreme reductionism. Ick.

Four reasons, by my reckoning.

Yes, he’s got four bad reasons. Let’s go through them.

First, not only do we (here, a royal ‘we’ of evolutionary biologists like myself) expect very many people to not understand evolution, because it is too simple and mechanistic for our meaning-laden world;

Wait. That’s just wrong. People who do understand evolution will tell you that it’s complex, subtle, and mathematical; there are a few core ideas that Darwin came up with that you can pick up by reading a 160 year old book, but it has become rather more sophisticated since the Origin. But now he’s going to begin by giving us a cartoon version of evolution that is simple, and wrong.

we also predict that people should reject evolution because one of its core provisos is that people, you and me, should generally behave so as to maximize their relative fitness.

But…but…that’s not true. Much of human behavior is irrational. We have drives that often lead us to do stupid things that compromise our fitness. Isn’t that one of the important ideas of modern economics?

Maybe one of the reasons that people reject Crespi’s version of evolution is that it is trivially falsified.

Competition, survival, reproduction, of the fittest? Not me, you? For shame.

Someone explain to me what he’s trying to say here.

Evolutionary theory indeed predicts that we should each believe, or at least rationalize, ourselves to be mutualistic, altruistic, and moral nearly to a fault, because that is one of the best ways to get the edge on, or into, our competitors, be they individuals or other groups1.

As a counterexample…Donald Trump. While he may certainly believe that he is a saint, his behavior is not mutualistic, altruistic, or moral. I really don’t understand how Crespi expects to make an assertion without evidence, of a claim that we can trivially counter, and expect us to be persuaded.

So are you a believer now?

No.

Evolution is controversial because its very existence seems to attack our core beliefs about our own goodness, and the biggest questions regarding human purpose.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Yes, I can accept this one sentence, because materialistic, secular ideas about human origins do undermine social and religious conventions, and strip humanity of an external source of purpose. But the statement about core beliefs about our own goodness is just weird, living in a culture where the dominant religious traditions all claim that we are inherently hellbound sinners, that our nature is evil, requiring divine intervention to save us. Also, he’s just going to abandon this point and plummet forward.

Second, psychology purports to study the brain, but can it do so scientifically, like other disciplines?

Psychology studies behavior, not the brain, although there are interdisciplinary scientists who study the physiological mechanisms underlying behavior. So ok, why is it questionable whether psychology is a science?

Will generating questionnaires, and treating humans in modern, novel environments like lab rats, illuminate the inner-workings of the most complicated known structure in our universe?

“Generating questionnaires”, which is not the only technique psychologists have at their disposal, is simply one mechanism for observing human behavior. Putting humans in novel environments is an experimental method. So psychology uses both observation and experiment, key parts of the scientific method, so what’s the complaint here?

The hard sciences are hard because they are reductionistic – they infer mechanisms, processes, parts that, combined together, explain the workings of whole systems.

Reductionism, especially the kind of naive reductionism Crespi seems to be advocating, is not the be-all and end-all of a science — not evolutionary biology and not psychology. There is a place for synthesis and emergent behavior in both disciplines.

They conduct controlled, predictive experiments.

Like psychology does?

They have conceptual frameworks built from math and data, not fashion.

Like psychology does?

Look, “hard” and “soft” sciences are colloquial buzzwords that do not reflect the actual methodology of the labeled disciplines. I know too many psychologists, so-called soft scientists, who apply more mathematical and statistical rigor to their work than I, a “hard scientist”, do. I get away with it because I work with simpler phenomena that have a higher degree of reproducibility, and fewer confounding variables. So far the only thing Crespi is saying is that he has an irrational bias against psychology.

So armed, they ratchet forward, fact by incontrovertible fact. ‘Soft’ disciplines are soft because they reject reduction, and indeed often claim post-modern relativity for all.

That’s pure nonsense. Most psychology studies are strong examples of reduction, attempts to simplify and quantify complex phenomena by reducing variables. His statement that they “claim post-modern relativity” is garbage, another common buzzword thrown about by lazy incompetents. Citation fucking needed.

Psychology is a soft science because it cannot reduce – there is no place to go except neuroscience, which would swallow it up with nary a belch, given the chance.

I come from a background in neuroscience — in biology, we do a lot of work on single cells, or small manageable networks of cells. Psychologists are looking at a whole different level of behavior. This assertion is assuming that complex, higher-level behavior is derivable from the biophysics of individual cells. It is not.

Evolutionary biology is historical but also reductionist, in that it specifies the precise set of processes whereby all phenotypes have come to be, and change, and it tells us how to discover what functions they serve.

Say what? With few exceptions, we don’t have the “precise set of processes” — we have general models with predictive power. We certainly don’t know how all phenotypes have come to be, or what functions every phenotype serves. This is kind of a charitable panglossian optimism that he refuses to apply to any other discipline, and that also plays right into the hands of creationists. But now we get into the revealing stuff.

As such, it illuminates all domains of science, from genetic sequence through to human behavior – or at least would, if allowed to by academic practitioners. Psychology is controversial because it is a soft science trying to answer the hardest of question, how the brain works. It can’t.

“If allowed to by academic practitioners” — there’s a reason that the majority of academics do not accept this smug reductionist view that you can explain behavior with genes — it’s false. We can’t.

Psychology is the study of mind and behavior. It tries to answer questions appropriate to its purview. To bring up a question not within its purview and criticize it for failing to answer it is dishonest and deceptive.

Third, evolutionary psychology was forged in a crucible of polemic, as specific schools of thought, such as the school of highly-modular fitness-increasing brain functions developed by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. These researchers staked out strong claims, trained talented students, and attacked intellectually-neighboring tribes.

Yes, they invited controversy by modeling the evolution of the brain in ways that they could not support with evidence, and postulating structures (“modules”) that were poorly defined and lacking in actual support. That’s the primary problem, not that their students were evangelical about it all.

Adopting one side of polarized viewpoints, and sticking to it, remains a highly-effective route to scientific notoriety, even though in almost all such fierce academic battles both sides are partially correct, and both partially wrong.

“They were just doing it for the clicks.” I’ve seen that argument before. Also this weird claim that both sides are equally wrong and the truth lies in the middle. Bleh.

We are a deeply tribal species, and we love observing, or joining in, a good scrap. In this case, though, an entire emerging, integrative field has become conflated with extreme views of how the mind thinks, which has made for inviting targets but distracted from the much more general usefulness of evolutionary thinking.

Yeah, why can’t everyone just use the methods of evolutionary biology to answer their questions? No matter what they are. Also, precisely what is this emerging field integrating? I would think it’s evolutionary biology plus psychology, but we already know Crespi despises psychology. Why would you praise a field for fusing with a discipline you detest?

Will psychology eventually be torn asunder, like anthropology has been into post-modern, anti-evolutionary ‘culturalists’ versus mainstream but human-centric and evolution-minded biologists? Will economics? One can only hope.

So. Much. Bad. Writing.

And so much right-wing buzzwording. “Post-modern” is always a good insult for people who don’t understand it, and no, I don’t see cultural anthropology as abandoning evolution. What about economics?

“One can only hope” … what? Is he saying that tearing disciplines asunder is a desirable outcome?

Fourth, ‘psyche’ indeed means ‘soul’, and for psychologists, the hostile tribes of evolutionary biology threaten to steal it away, and subsume their discipline in its mechanistic, reductionist embrace.

Whut?

He’s making an argument from etymology? Because “psychology” is called “psychology” does not imply that all psychologists therefore believe in souls.

The irony here is that if there is any discipline that has no soul – that is, no unifying conceptual framework – it is psychology, which has flitted from one arbitrary, more or less imaginary construct to the next since Wilhelm Wundt began treating introspection as data.

Now we redefine “soul”. Jeez, but Crespi is annoyingly tendentious.

Of course psychology has produced deeply fascinating insights over its many years. Of course we need a top-down approach to understanding how the brain works, to meet neuroscience inexorably burrowing up from the bottom. But don’t we need a mind-set that recognizes that the brain and mind have evolved, like finches and opposable thumbs?

Yes, psychology has a niche and works well within it. However, there is nothing in psychology that implies that the brain has not evolved.

Any discipline would fight like hell to defend its very existence, or at least resist radical transformation at the hands of competitors. Controversy indeed often leads to scientific revolution, with casualties on both sides.

Where is this nonsense coming from? The existence of psychology is not imperiled by evolution, or by knowledge about the material structure of the brain, so this is a purely imaginary conflict. All the psychologists I know have been fairly materialistic and see biology of the brain as complementary to their work.

So let’s wrap all this tangled trash with Crespi’s grand conclusion.

Evolutionary psychology is like evolutionary anything: it is founded on a way of thinking about how the world works, how it has come to be, and how to understand it. It works by telling us what hypotheses to test, what data to collect, and how to interpret our results. The fires of controversy over this emerging field have generated both heat and light, but better understanding of their sources will, I think, help us to control the flames and put them to better use.

I’m trying to wade through his metaphor. He seems to be equating evolutionary psychology with evolutionary biology (they aren’t the same at all), and that the controversies over evolutionary psychology are interfering with its assimilation of psychology (boo, hiss). To summarize his four incoherent arguments for why EP is controversial:

  1. Evolution is simple, reductionist, and predicts humans are altruistic, therefore it is good.
  2. Psychology isn’t synonymous with neurobiology, therefore it is soft and bad. Psychology just plain sucks.
  3. Evolutionary psychology is controversial, which makes it popular.
  4. Psychology sucks, part 2, because it has no soul, and evolutionary biology steals souls, and besides, psychology doesn’t recognize that the brain evolved.

This is simply bad logic.

I don’t think psychology should just accept the dominion of evolutionary psychology, because EP is wrong — it’s a purely adaptationist paradigm built on flawed preconceptions and lazy methodology. EP can’t possibly test assumptions about the evolution of the human mind over the last 100,000 years by facile observations of Western middle-class college students. Especially not when it’s defenders don’t understand evolution at all, and reduce everything to blind adaptationism.

But then, this article by Crespi is so awful that I can imagine all the evolutionary psychologists begging for him not to help them anymore.

I thought CNBC was supposed to be slightly “liberal”

Some people think so. But then I ran across this article: This simple tipping trick could save you over $400 a year. Before you click the link, guess what the “simple trick” is.

It’s the stunning insight of “tip less”. In order to justify two dozen paragraphs, a video, and a fancy info-graphic, though, they have to justify it with some cheesy detailed rigamarole about how instead of shifting the decimal point in your bill one to the left and doubling it to get 20%, you should know the sales tax rate in the state, look at the tax on your bill, and use that to calculate the tip.

The second group uses the information provided to them on their bill to double the tax (8.875 percent in a place like New York City) and arrive at a tip close to 18 percent. In a state like Maryland where tax is 6 percent, they triple the tax instead.

It’s math, therefore it is correct. Never mind that you’re simply stiffing the staff a few bucks and then inventing a secret formula to rationalize it.

And then they have a bar graph to illustrate how much you’d save by tipping less, and went out to Times Square to interview people and ask if they were supportive of their “trick”. I hope the nerd who slapped that stupidity together feels really dirty right now.

Their earthshaking conclusion: less money tipped is more money saved. No shit, Sherlock. I am forced to conclude that CNBC is simply stupid, not liberal at all.