The Cry of the Bigot

Hmph, yet again I find myself late to the party. Shiv has an excellent article up on Jesse Singal.
Back when Singal first started cluelessly meandering into trans issues, virtually every trans feminist academic I read approached him with kiddie gloves. Julia Serano gave an interview with him to help orient his slant on a Ken Zucker piece in relation to empirical evidence–he declined to use any of the information she provided. Same thing with Parker Molloy, who goes to great lengths to avoid calling Singal transphobic despite his omission of Molloy’s attempt to introduce the evidence to him. A blogger by the pseudonym of Cerberus has meticulously documented Singal’s foray into trans issues, and spends several years trying to patiently explain the sheer amount of denialism necessary to maintain the opinions Singal defends.
The chain of causality is a bit convoluted. Rebecca Tuvel wrote a clueless article comparing “transracialism” to gender identity. Some academics popped up to say “you missed the boat, and here’s why.”[2] Singal responded with, in part:
This is a witch hunt. There has simply been an explosive amount of misinformation circulating online about what is and isn’t in Tuvel’s article, which few of her most vociferous critics appear to have even skimmed, based on their inability to accurately describe its contents.
Yeeeah. There’s meatier arguments within Singal’s article, but the histrionics are well out of line. Myers noticed this too, but I want to highlight the hyperbole as a warning flag.
[9:35] HARRIS: The purpose of the podcast was to set the record straight, because I find the dishonesty and hypocrisy and moral cowardice of Murray’s critics shocking, and the fact that I was taken in by this defamation of him and effectively became part of a silent mob that was just watching what amounted to a modern witch-burning, that was intolerable to me. So it is with real pleasure (and some trepidation) that I bring you a very controversial conversation, on points about which there is virtually no scientific controversy. […]

In thinking about the frenzied monstering of me on Freethought Blogs over the past few weeks, I realized I must have been laboring under a misapprehension all the time I was there. I thought it was a network that was partly about thinking – thinking as such, thinking as a value, thinking as a goal and a pursuit and a method. I knew it was about other things too, of course, especially secularism and atheism and also progressive causes, but I did think it put the “thought” part front and center. […]

I think Freethought Blogs the network has taken a hard turn to anti-intellectualism for the sake of absolutist political commitment. I think political commitments need to be accompanied by thinking.

Benson in particular makes a fine example of this, as not only has she endorsed describing any pushback against transphobia as “witch hunts,” she’s also mocked people for playing the “witch hunt” card and hosted a co-blogger who speaks out against actual witch hunts. It’s amazing to watch the ease with which she pulls out hyperbole right to this day, to paint herself as the victim of a vast conspiracy of the blind.

One of the things I loathe most about the “SHUN HER NOW” school of non-thought is the way it forbids all that and insists that thinking has to be replaced with formulas and that the formulas have to be repeated exactly or dire punishment will follow. In short I loathe the banning of thought and probing and questions. I think I knew I couldn’t stay at FTB any longer when the goons started mocking me for daring to say it made a difference whether we were talking about ontology or politics. Fucking hell, if we can’t make distinctions as basic as that how can we think at all?

Back in the day, I pointed out this feeds “into the heightened emotions and paranoia Benson needs to keep other people (and perhaps herself) from looking at the evidence.” It is the cry of the bigot: hyperbolic and emotionally charged, so as to drive out self-reflection and critical thought. Watch for it.

Proof from Design, or the Teleological Proof (6)

I Fought The Law

To some, this is a huge contradiction.

Scientists have been studying heat for as long as we’ve had fire, and from that effort have produced the Laws of Thermodynamics,[139] plus the concepts of entropy and systems. You can think of a system as a really sturdy container, like a pot holding a nice clay sculpture. If the container is closed, you won’t be able to touch the sculpture or tip it out; likewise, a “closed” system is completely isolated from everything else. The analogy doesn’t quite fit; since the container isn’t thermally closed, you can heat up the sculpture by heating up the container. In a proper closed system there’s nothing you can do from the outside to effect the inside, and vice-versa.

This sculpture probably doesn’t take up all of the container, though. The remainder is likely “air,” the random hodge-podge of atmospheric molecules that were floating around inside until the container was closed. This creates a clear boundary, between the air molecules and the clay molecules; we’ll call this a “low” entropy state, which means there is a lot of order present. Suppose we abuse this analogy a little, and kick the container off a cliff. The sculpture would likely shatter, becoming less organized itself. If we repeat this a few million times, you’ll wind up with fine clay dust mingling with the air itself. There’s no longer any sort of boundary or order here, which means it’s now a “high” entropy state. [Read more…]

They Got Al Capone on Tax Evasion

I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I think I’ll set aside some time to watch this.

Investigations conducted by ZEMBLA show that Bayrock has formed a business construction in the Netherlands, which may have been used to siphon off one and a half million dollars. In this enterprise, Bayrock collaborated with Viktor Khrapunov, a fugitive ex-mayor and governor from Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstan government accuses Khrapunov of systematically looting hundreds of millions of public assets.

It doesn’t sound like riveting TV, until you read a bit further.

The hub of the enterprise is the Dutch letter box company KazBay B.V. In the act of incorporation it states that KazBay is owned by two companies: the Dutch firm Bayrock B.V. and the Swiss company Helvetic Capital S.A. This email explains that Trump’s business partner Bayrock Group L.L.C. is behind Bayrock BV, and that the actual owner of Helvetic Capital S.A. is none other than the wife of Viktor Khrapunov.

This mail clearly refers to the use of a Dutch go-between company. Its contents also reveal that the Dutch construction was formed by the law firm of Rudy Giuliani who, at the time, was a partner in Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, and is also a Trump confidante.

Trump and Giuliani? Tied up in international money laundering?! It could explain his stance on national monuments, according to James Henry.

“This is a land grab,” said Henry. “If you don’t get that Putin and the Russians transferred a hell of a lot of wealth of the Russian government to a handful of 25 oligarchs. Right now there are five states in the U.S. that are roughly 80 percent or more owned by the federal government. Trump has just issued executive orders that will open up a lot of that land, either to outright privatization or to mining deals like we’ve never seen before.”

“There’s nothing ideological,” Henry said. “What connects all of these people in the Trump government is they are all about money. This is going to be a huge payday for these people and their friends. At the end of the day, they take care of themselves.”

This might also explain why Trump was so eager to fire Comey; the FBI was shifting focus from Russian collusion with Trump to organized crime involvement. It would also explain why Democrats questioned Comey about Felix Sater.

There’s a lot of speculation here, alas, and I’d rather see Trump investigated for collusion. But it might also be solid grounds for impeachment and a major scandal for the Republicans.

What if the simplest solution was just to fire Comey and to pressure McConnell to go along? Not that the Senate Majority Leader needed much persuading.

“McConnell received a million-dollar contribution from Russians back in October that we know about,” Henry said. “There was a million-dollar contribution to the Senate leadership PAC in the name of a New York company owned by Len Blavatnik.” Blavatnik is a Russian-born billionaire-oligarch who invested in aluminum companies in Russia and became a U.S. citizen decades ago.

It’s not the ideal path to get Trump out of office, but it could work.

Intersex and Sex Denialism

This was a pleasant surprise.

For generations those who, for biological reasons, don’t fit the usual male/female categories have faced violence and stigma in Kenya. Intersex people – as they are commonly known in Kenya – were traditionally seen as a bad omen bringing a curse upon their family and neighbours. Most were kept in hiding and many were killed at birth. But now a new generation of home-grown activists and medical experts are helping intersex people to come out into the open. They’re rejecting the old idea that intersex people must be assigned a gender in infancy and stick to it and are calling on the government to instead grant them legal recognition.

While some of those people are trans*, that podcast does talk with a number of intersex people as well. It’s great to see more advocacy, I just wish I’d see more of it in North America and less of this.

The facts of the world generally don’t support transphobic arguments, and transphobes don’t really have the option of making robust arguments based on an honest assessment of the current state of our knowledge. They know this – they make use of this same technique of pondering counterfactuals. The difference is that they work backwards to fabricate an entirely new counter-reality, tailored to support their positions and vast enough that it can substitute for reality itself in a person’s mind. It’s called denialism: an entire ideological support system made to preserve a desired belief by rejecting the overwhelming evidence that would threaten this belief.

Denialism is wrongness with an infrastructure – ignorance with an armored shell, a whole fake world weaponized against the real world.

Less of “denialism,” that is, not good analysis or Zinnia Jones. She gets a bit meta behind the link, and the contents are applicable to much more than transphobia. It’s worth a full read.
(That last item comes courtesy of Shiv. Support her work, too!)

The Firing of James Comey

Now that I’ve set a CPU on fire, I can start typing up something about this. I’m a bit late to the table, but that means I have a bit more information. In no particular order:

Whew! Capitol Hill is nearly as hot as my CPU right now.

Bonus track!

He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said. […]

But the fallout seemed to take the White House by surprise. Trump made a round of calls around 5 p.m., asking for support from senators. White House officials believed it would be a “win-win” because Republicans and Democrats alike have problems with the FBI director, one person briefed on their deliberations said. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told him he was making a big mistake — and Trump seemed “taken aback,” according to a person familiar with the call.

By Tuesday evening, the president was watching the coverage of his decision and frustrated no one was on TV defending him, a White House official said. He wanted surrogates out there beating the drum. Instead, advisers were attacking each other for not realizing the gravity of the situation as events blew up.”

Last one, promise.

Politico described the mood last night at [Roger] Stone’s house in Florida as “elated.” Another former Trump adviser under investigation as part of the Russia probe, former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, also applauded the move.

While Stone was jubilant, Politico reports that “shock dominated much of the FBI and the White House.”

I LIE, though to be fair that’s currently in style. Also, I have to update a line-item above, Comey’s been invited to testify privately next week and despite early reports it looks like his successor will take his place during the public hearings this week. Plus:

Three interesting items, one of which is only tangentially related to the above.

In the weeks before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, a federal investigation into potential collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government was heating up, as Mr. Comey became increasingly occupied with the probe.

Mr. Comey started receiving daily instead of weekly updates on the investigation, beginning at least three weeks ago, according to people with knowledge of the matter and the progress of the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. Mr. Comey was concerned by information showing possible evidence of collusion, according to these people.


Trump was angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped. Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.

The known actions that led to Comey’s dismissal raise as many questions as answers. Why was Sessions involved in discussions about the fate of the man leading the FBI’s Russia investigation, after having recused himself from the probe because he had falsely denied under oath his own past communications with the Russian ambassador?

Why had Trump discussed the Russia probe with the FBI director three times, as he claimed in his letter dismissing Comey, which could have been a violation of Justice Department policies that ongoing investigations generally are not to be discussed with White House officials?

And how much was the timing of Trump’s decision shaped by events spiraling out of his control — such as Monday’s testimony about Russian interference by former acting attorney general Sally Yates, or the fact that Comey last week requested more resources from the Justice Department to expand the FBI’s Russia probe?


When President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded the Russians, he was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”

I didn’t know this.

The most famous leaker in US history — the pseudonymous Deep Throat, who gave sensitive information on the Nixon administration to Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in 1972-3 during the Watergate scandal — was later revealed to be Mark Felt, who was associate FBI director at the time.

Interestingly, Felt’s motivation for leaking about Watergate wasn’t whistleblowing: He wasn’t motivated by some patriotic sense of duty to protect American democracy. Rather, he believed he was acting to protect the FBI’s independence from Nixon’s attempts to rein it in.

If that culture is still in place, the FBI could go to war with Trump. That seems probable, and the first shots may have already been fired.

FBI agents raided the Annapolis offices of a GOP fundraising outfit, Strategic Campaign Group, with links to Trump. The director, Kelley Rogers, has been employed by Penn National Gaming, a company with ties to the Trump Taj Mahal. The Senate Intelligence Committee reportedly has been looking into money laundering penalties levied against the Taj in 2015.

One of Strategic Campaign Group’s senior advisers, Dennis Whitfield, is also a director of the political consulting firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. Founders Paul Manafort (a former Trump campaign chairman) and another longtime Trump adviser, Roger Stone, are reportedly under investigation for connections to Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

Remember when Trump said “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation?”

Trump narrated those three occasions to [Lester] Holt. The first came at a dinner between the two men in which Trump said Comey seemed to be trying to keep his job, in the face of Trump’s public criticism.

“I had dinner with him,” Trump said. “He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on … Dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head, and I said, ‘I’ll consider it. We’ll see what happens.’ But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me you are not under investigation.”

Trump acknowledged that Comey has said the FBI is investigating links between his campaign and Russia, but said he was not personally involved, and that Comey had reiterated that in two separate phone calls. “In one case I called him and one case he called me,” the president said.

Except that directly contradicts what Comey has shared with friends and associates.

As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him. Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense. […]

By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty. Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him “honesty” and did not pledge his loyalty, according to the account of the conversation.

But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be “honest loyalty.” “You will have that,” Mr. Comey told his associates he responded.

That New York Times story also drops this interesting tidbit.

Mr. Comey described details of his refusal to pledge his loyalty to Mr. Trump to several people close to him on the condition that they not discuss it publicly while he was F.B.I. director. But now that Mr. Comey has been fired, they felt free to discuss it on the condition of anonymity.

This meshes with what other people have suggested, that Comey is a master at setting up a defensive paper trail. It apparently has Trump spooked and reaching for distractions.

The FBI isn’t exactly elated, either, with some agents scrambling to finish the Russian probe before Trump can kill or starve it.

An intriguing update on Comey’s testimony.

He declined an invitation to speak to a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and was replaced on a panel testifying before that committee last Thursday by his temporary replacement, Andrew McCabe.

Comey’s associates say that he is not seeking publicity and that they believe an open session before Congress is the most appropriate setting. He would not be commenting on specifics of the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election and would likely discuss issues about his record.

Here we go. It needs independent confirmation, but still:

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations. Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” […]

Mr. Comey created similar memos — including some that are classified — about every phone call and meeting he had with the president, the two people said. It is unclear whether Mr. Comey told the Justice Department about the conversation or his memos.

Proof from Design, or the Teleological Proof (5)

Evolution and Chaos

That’s a real problem, because there are a lot of similarities between the math I’ve taught you and evolution.

Flip back to my earlier definition. The copying process is a form of positive feedback. Unchecked, it would lead to exponential growth as the original made copies, and the copies also made copies, and the copies of copies also made copies, and so on.

The limited environment is negative feedback. It’s continually throttling or cutting down self-replicators in a multitude of ways; a lack of food, no more room to grow into, the length of a day, imperfections that kill it off after a time, predators in the environment, and a lack of mates are but a few examples from biology.

The changes to the copy are a nudge value. They’re a real wild card, sometimes increasing negative feedback (such as birth defects in biology), positive feedback (making tail feathers more attractive to the opposite sex), neither (changing eye colour), or even both (boosting metabolism and cancer rates). The rate of change can vary too, unlike the constant in our math.

The simple rules of evolution contain all the components needed for complex behaviour.

You may have noticed that I’ve avoided the word “organism,” and tacked on “in biology” in the examples above. While biologists were the first to stumble onto evolution, the same process works just as well on the non-living.

Musicians learn music by copying what’s come before. Their songs are different, but not because the songs are mixed via sex or tweaked via an error in the copying process; instead, creative exploration is to blame. All these songs, old and new, have to make an impression on other people, otherwise they won’t be played and will wind up forgotten, which is a limitation imposed by their environment.

All the pieces are in place, so it’s no surprise that music shows signs of evolution. When the Motown genre began, it was etched into vinyl records with the volume turned down slightly, just like all records at that time were. By the time this genre had faded in popularity, Motown records were as loud as the vinyl physically allowed. Why? Motown was usually played at loud parties and clubs; the louder it was, the more likely it would be heard and enjoyed, and the more likely it would be bought. Musicians and record producers inadvertently evolved to be louder, as a result.

The principles that drive evolution have been used to build more efficient antennas, stronger concrete reinforcements, robots that can walk, and even create art. I’ve used it myself several times, to find the minimal value in a complicated formula without doing a lot of messy math, and to find ideal exam schedules for a school assignment. It explains why music became louder after portable music players were invented; the environment changed to be louder, and feedback unconsciously shaped our music in response. In theory, anything that can be quantified into a number or imperfectly copied, then measured in some way, could be developed further by using evolution.

Baby Steps to a Light-Sensitive Patch…

Time to return to biology, to explain how eyes developed. Thanks to a mutation, an organism was born with a light-sensitive patch of skin. This patch allowed it to hide in dark corners or locate food better than organisms that didn’t have a patch, so it was more likely to survive and reproduce. A mutation that caused the patch to “cave in” protected it somewhat, so again that organism had an advantage. As the patch sunk deeper, it could sense light direction, and as the top nearly closed over it became a pinhole camera. A clear membrane kept out debris, but also acted like a lens. Muscles formerly used to control skin hair could bend this lens, moving the focus around. Detaching the outer layer of skin allowed it to rotate, and skin muscles went from having a slight effect to being dedicated to providing this rotation.

Each of these intermediate steps has been found in an existing species, so the entire process is very plausible.[132] There’s no intention behind his process, no great plan, and yet the end result is careful design.

The immune system took a similar arch, but with one crucial difference. For the eye, we have a pretty good idea of how it started. While scientists can roughly pin down the dates for when the immune system evolved,[133] and understand the aftermath quite well, they aren’t sure what it evolved from.

Some believers have seized on this. If scientists don’t know how the immune system started, that must mean it was created by a god! The same line of thought has been applied to countless other examples, ranging from the bacterial flagellum[134] to thunder.

Recognize this? I covered the same line of reasoning back in the Cosmological proof. Not knowing what caused something does not prove YHWH or Shiva or whatever agent you’d like did the deed, it does nothing but leave the causer unknown. And if we ever think of any mechanism that also explains how it came about without relying on a god, Ockham swoops in and rules out the supernatural version.

Again we have two theories, design by deity and design by evolution. One requires a god, the other does not, so we could invoke Ockham’s Razor if we wish.

Take A Chance

We can do better, though.

Evolution is a slow, haphazard process, that only improves by small steps. Gods are smarter and more powerful than us, capable of large improvements and planning ahead. We could infer the method of design, then, by looking at the results.

Most land dwellers on this planet are capable of producing Vitamin C. Indeed, by examining our DNA, scientists have found that we too would be capable of it, if not for a disabling mutation. This would have been crippling if not for our varied diet, which consumes enough vitamin C producers to make up the loss. It took the recent invention of long sea voyages to even discover this missing ability; as luck would have it, our best sources of vitamin C tend to rot quickly.

Both designers seem to be on equal footing, until you notice one detail. If our inability to make C was due to the gods, why did they leave a crippled deactivated version of it within us? A designer capable of foresight would have omitted it completely, saving us from accidentally re-activating it up and mucking up the plan. A blind single-step process, on the other hand, could never yank the entire thing out in one go. Instead, we would cart around the damaged copy until mutations and deletions had whittled it down to nothing. This process takes time, so a nearly-intact copy is a sign the change was pretty recent. This squares nicely with the evidence, too.

Design by deity has problems with the nerve connecting our voice box and brain, too. This pathway runs down our neck, into our chest, around the major arteries and veins by our heart, and back up our neck. There’s no benefit to this long route, yet we spend precious resources to create it. It’s a stupid design, and any competent designer would have gotten rid of it long ago.

So why hasn’t evolution trashed it too? Perhaps re-routing the nerve would require too big a change to happen by chance. Evolution only deals with small random tweaks, after all, so if any “repairs” need large co-ordinated adjustments, they’ll never be made.

Thanks to genome sequencing, we’ve been able to confirm this; multiple simultaneous mutations are needed to reroute that nerve, and the odds of that happening by chance are basically zero.

If there’s no reason for it now, evolution tells us that there must have been a reason in the past; otherwise, such a crazy combination never would have survived in the first place! As the changes mounted over time, this original “purpose”[135] was lost.

We can’t rewind the clock and track down our ancestor,[136] but we can look to our cousins instead. While every organism has been evolving for the same amount of time, they live in quite different environments that may have changed dramatically over the aeons. Since evolution is directed by the environment, if we can find a species that has always lived in an environment similar to our distant ancestors we might get a clue to the original “reason” for this layout.

It’s a long shot, and our first searches don’t lend us much hope. Chimpanzees, who must be very close to us by their anatomy, have the same detour. Dissecting other apes shows they have it too. Desperate, we start analyzing lemurs, sloths, squirrels, dogs, horses, mice, kangaroos… each time finding that blasted detour. Even giraffes have it, a ridiculous 5 metre long nerve to connect two bits of anatomy 10cm apart! Every animal with legs and a spine has that silly detour; insects and spiders don’t have it, but their insides look nothing like ours, and plants and fungi don’t have any nerves at all. Dejected, we turn to the sea, hoping to learn something from whales.

Instead, we’re shocked when we cut open our first fish.

They have air bladders and gills instead of lungs, of course, but they do have muscles, stomachs, spines, rib cages, and a lot more anatomy that looks similar to ours. Most importantly, they have vocal cords, a heart and a brain too…

… and the heart is in a direct line between the other two!

We keep dissecting fish, and each time we find the same brain-heart-vocal cord pattern. Our quest for a reason is over; that nerve heads for the heart because that once helped it to the voice box. As our bodies changed, and moved the vocal cord and brain into the head while leaving the heart lower down, single-step random mutations weren’t able to change this nerve’s path and thus it was forced into an odd detour.

Quests are known for granting important knowledge to the people that undertake them, and this one lives up to that ideal. To start, we now know we must have evolved from a fish-like creature. Not only that, but every land animal with a spine must have done the same.

It’s possible that large numbers of land animals originally made their home in the ocean, but over time all of them packed up and moved ashore. Since it would be highly unlikely for all of them to trace their ancestry back to the same style of sea organism, we should expect a wide variety of body plans. Instead, all of them conform to a four-limb spine-and-ribcage layout, have their internal organs in eerily similar spots, and develop in very similar ways.

From all this similarity, we’re forced to instead conclude that it’s far more likely that all land animals, including humans, evolved from a single creature that lived in water.

Insects and the like may not have, but our findings are suggestive: if creatures as diverse as elephants and snakes share a common ancestor, perhaps every living thing evolved from one organism.

The evidence from our basic building blocks all but confirms it. Every protein used by your body is encoded in a gene. There’s no need for every organism to use the same code for the same protein, and yet the overwhelming majority do. The protein that is used to exchange energy within our bodies, ATP,[137] is put to the same use in every multicellular organism we’ve found, and even a few single-celled ones. And most convincing of all, Douglas Theobald of Brandeis University ran a computer simulation that tested a variety of possible origins for life on a widely diverse set of life’s genomes. The odds of life having multiple ancestors, as opposed to sharing a single one, were 1 in 103,489. The odds of human beings spontaneously popping into existence, with no ancestors whatsoever, were a mind-shattering 1 in 106000.[138]

This is a problem for design by deity. Any intelligent designer would not hesitate to toss out useless code. Even if it did let evolution take over at some point, the net result would look like multiple ancestors for all modern life. Since we don’t find that, no deity could have designed any species save the first one. We’re forced into a biological sort of deism, at best, where a deity kick-starts a chemical chain-reaction then leaves it alone.

Is evolution the only designer? By no means; remember, all it took to generate complexity from simplicity were two conflicting feedback systems. With the bar set so low other examples should be easy to spot, and are. From the formation of ice crystals to the existence of stars, it’s clear that the laws of nature can create design without a supernatural designer.

[132]  Land, M. F. and Fernald, R. D, “The Evolution of Eyes.” Annual Review of Neuroscience, vol. 15, 1992.

[133]  Did you know you have two immune systems? The “innate” system appeared a billion years ago, while the “adaptive” popped up about 450 million years ago. Over time these two systems have integrated… mostly. I’d share more details, but quite frankly I don’t understand them!

[134]  Never heard of it? Then why did you skip past the introduction?!

[135]  There’s no intelligence driving evolution, as I’ve shown, so don’t take “purpose” and “reason” literally.

[136]  Sort of. Since mutations are small and random, you can reconstruct an earlier genome (and thus an earlier animal) by overlapping thousands or millions of sequences, and looking for the most common version of each gene. Without a womb, though, you’d never be able to convert this into a living animal.

[137] Adenosine-5′-triphosphate. Interesting fact: a typical Homo Sapiens Sapiens contains roughly ¼ of a kilogram of the stuff, yet uses enough in a day to duplicate its body weight.

[138]   Theobald, Douglas, “A formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry.” Nature, Volume 465, May 13 2010.

But Everything Worked Out, Right?

The right person won in the recent France election, but the outcome worries me. The polls badly underestimated his win.

The average poll conducted in the final two weeks of the campaign gave Macron a far smaller lead (22 percentage points) than he ended up winning by (32 points), for a 10-point miss. In the eight previous presidential election runoffs, dating back to 1969, the average poll missed the margin between the first- and second-place finishers by only 3.9 points.

That should be a warning flag to the French to take less stock in their polls and weight unlikely outcomes as more likely. It’s doubtful they will, though, because everything turned out all right. That’s no slam against the French, it’s just human nature. Take the 2012 US election:

Four years ago, an average of survey results the week before the election had Obama winning by 1.2 percentage points. He actually beat Mitt Romney by 3.9 points.

If that 2.7-point error doesn’t sound like very much to you, well, it’s very close to what Donald Trump needs to overtake Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. She leads by 3.3 points in our polls-only forecast.

That was Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight four days before the 2016 US election, four days before Clinton fell victim to a smaller polling error. Americans should have done back in 2012 what the French should do now, but they didn’t. Even the betting markets figured Clinton would sweep, an eerie mirror of their French counterparts.

Overall, there are a higher number of bets on Ms Le Pen coming out on top, than Brexit or Donald Trump – even though the odds are much lower, according to the betting experts.

The moral of the story: don’t let a win go to your head. You might miss a critical bit of data if you do.

Intelligence and Race, in sub-populations

I’ve read a fair number of papers covering race and genes. In fact, before I go farther, here’s a bibliography:

In this article, the authors argue that the overwhelming portion of the literature on intelligence, race, and genetics is based on folk taxonomies rather than scientific analysis. They suggest that because theorists of intelligence disagree as to what it is, any consideration of its relationships to other constructs must be tentative at best. They further argue that race is a social construction with no scientific definition. Thus, studies of the relationship between race and other constructs may serve social ends but cannot serve scientific ends. No gene has yet been conclusively linked to intelligence, so attempts to provide a compelling genetic link of race to intelligence are not feasible at this time. The authors also show that heritability, a behavior-genetic concept, is inadequate in regard to providing such a link.

Sternberg, Robert J., Elena L. Grigorenko, and Kenneth K. Kidd. “Intelligence, race, and genetics.” American Psychologist 60.1 (2005): 46.

The literature on candidate gene associations is full of reports that have not stood up to rigorous replication. This is the case both for straightforward main effects and for candidate gene-by-environment interactions (Duncan and Keller 2011). As a result, the psychiatric and behavior genetics literature has become confusing and it now seems likely that many of the published findings of the last decade are wrong or misleading and have not contributed to real advances in knowledge. The reasons for this are complex, but include the likelihood that effect sizes of individual polymorphisms are small, that studies have therefore been underpowered, and that multiple hypotheses and methods of analysis have been explored; these conditions will result in an unacceptably high proportion of false findings (Ioannidis 2005).

Hewitt, John K. “Editorial Policy on Candidate Gene Association and Candidate Gene-by-Environment Interaction Studies of Complex Traits.” Behavior Genetics 42, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 1–2. doi:10.1007/s10519-011-9504-z.

[Read more…]

Unhealthy Acts

If there’s one thing Canadian can agree on, it’s that our health care system is better than the one in the USA. It’s a chronic talking point.

“Canadians have a genuine fear of ‘American-style’ health care, and any discussion of private partnership in health is quickly quelled for this reason,” the [Ontario Chamber of Commerce] wrote. “But this ignores both the considerable share of health care already delivered by the private sector as well as the robust and equitable role of industry in other single-payer models such as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service or Australia’s Medicare.”

I think it’s actually a problem, as we should be comparing our system to the superior ones in Britain and France rather than being thankful we don’t have it worse. But just when I think the narrative will shift, things like this keep popping up.

The MacArthur-Meadows amendment to the AHCA, proposed by Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), co-chair of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group, would allow states to waive the current ban that prevents insurance companies from charging premium rates to customers based on their health history. This essentially allows pre-Obamacare discriminatory practices to once again be legalized. […]

If the MacArthur-Meadows amendment allows this type of discrimination to come back under the AHCA, survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence would face an extremely difficult decision: seek treatment and be forced to potentially pay more for health insurance, or refuse to go to the doctor and remain untreated for horrific injuries they have endured both mentally and physically. […]

Other largely gender-specific conditions, like postpartum depression and C-sections, would also be considered preexisting conditions under the new health care plan.

Cesarian sections? Sexual assault?! Oh, but it gets worse.

(The American Health Care Act could once again allow insurers to charge people more with these “preexisting conditions” ) * Breast cancer * Uterine cancer * Pregnancy or expectant parent * A Cesarean delivery * Being a survivor of domestic violence * Medical treatment for sexual assault * Mental disorders (severe, e.g., bipolar, eating disorder) * AIDS/HIV * Lupus * Alcohol abuse/drug abuse with recent treatment * Alzheimer’s/dementia * Multiple sclerosis * Arthritis (rheumatoid), fibromyalgia, other inflammatory joint disease * Muscular dystrophy * Any cancer within some period of time (e.g., 10 years, often other than basal skin cancer) * Obesity, severe * Cerebral palsy * Organ transplant * Congestive heart failure * Paraplegia * Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery * Paralysis * Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis * Parkinson’s disease * Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema * Pending surgery or hospitalization * Diabetes mellitus * Pneumocystic pneumonia * Epilepsy * Hemophilia * Sleep apnea * Hepatitis (hep C) * Stroke * Kidney disease, renal failure * Transsexualism (Other conditions insurers could use to increase the cost of insurance ) * Urinary tract infections * Menstrual irregularities * Migraine headaches * Acne * Allergies * Anxiety * Asthma * Basal cell skin cancer * Depression * Ear infections * Fractures * High cholesterol * Hypertension * Incontinence * Joint injuries * Kidney stones * Overweight * Restless leg syndrome * Tonsillitis * Varicose veins * Vertigo

Having hemophilia, allergies, or menstrual irregularities are grounds to charge you more for medical care?! Jesus, America, you really need to get your shit together. Some day I wish I’ll be able to say “if only the Canadian health-care system was as good as the one in the US.”