Tag Archives: Science

Consultants and Confused Apes

This article resonates with me. I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s┬ásummaries of the philosophers and scientists he cites, but I think his overall point is excellent.

The article has an embedded short video of Richard Feynman describing the feeling of confusion and how he views his work. I include it here.

A Thoughtful Review of Richard Dawkins’ Memoir

DawkinsReasonRally

Barbara King has posted a thoughtful review of Richard Dawkins memoir on NPR.

I admire Richard Dawkins, and I do agree that theistic religion is fundamentally poisonous to modern humanity. But, like the reviewer, I cannot agree that it’s appropriate to insult believers as stupid, gullible, or otherwise lacking in some desirable human trait.
The traits that allow believers to remain committed to their myths after so many other emblems of childhood have been abandoned are desirable traits, perhaps taken to extreme, but they are as human as any.

Primary among these traits is the human need for meaning, to ascribe purpose to a human life, particularly the suffering present in even the most fortunate lives and the ever-present spectre of death. Religion, by its very nature, is well suited to providing this meaning. A person not inclined to wonder or reflection, and that’s most of us, has in his or her local religion a ready-made worldview that provides answers to questions that science, by its nature, cannot answer. Science is wonderfully adept at telling us how, how things fit together and the causal chains that lead from one state to another. Only philosophy, metaphysics and its branches, can tell us why, why there is suffering, why we are mortal, why some are evil and others good, …

Religion provides meaning for a large number of people, and as far as I’m aware, Dawkins does not propose a viable alternative to religion. I’m all for fully educating everyone in both science and philosophy, but there are a large number of people who, given everything we atheists know about the world, will choose religion. It’s not just a matter of intelligence, as there are a small but significant number of clearly brilliant scientists and other thinkers that have retained belief in their religion despite being exposed to many of the greatest human ideas in science and philosophy.

My conclusion is that there’s something innate in many human beings that prefers religion over the alternatives. I consider it cruel to deny those inclined to religious belief the sense of meaning they derive from that belief, and the peace and joy that brings them, particularly when we have nothing to offer in its place.

Accuracy, Precision, and Resolution in GIS and Everyday Life

It’s very helpful to know the difference between Accuracy, Precision, and Resolution, not only in GIS but in everyday life and especially in science and engineering. Below are some resources that will help you learn the difference.

This first source is a video by Dr. Colin D. MacLeod, founder of “GIS In Ecology” (http://www.gisinecology.com/) . The intro text is as follows:

When collecting data that will be used in a geographic information system (GIS), it is important that you record it properly. In order to do this, you need to understand the difference between accuracy, precision and resolution. This short video provides a brief and easy to understand introduction to these concepts using target-shooting as an analogy.

The video is on YouTube at http://youtu.be/5HkZ2iM0cTE and embedded below.

 

This next source is an excellent explanation of Accuracy, Precision, Resolution and Sensitivity by Measurement Computing Data Acquisition, a data acquisition vendor.

http://kb.mccdaq.com/KnowledgebaseArticle50043.aspx

 

Below is an interesting quick read on a GIS professional’s view of the rapid advance of GIS data quality, including accuracy, precision, and resolution.

http://www.esri.com/news/arcuser/0110/accuracy-precision.html

 

Finally, this last source contains an interesting discussion on error, accuracy, and precision, and its importance in GIS.

http://www.colorado.edu/geography/gcraft/notes/error/error_f.html

Be Careful Using Spreadsheets for Serious Technical Work

The Reinhart-Rogoff case makes for an excellent cautionary tale on the dangers of using spreadsheets for serious work and also a great example of science working properly due to the open exchange of experimental data and documents.

Be Careful Using Spreadsheets for Important Work

Warning someone to be careful with spreadsheets sounds like some Captain Obvious level advice, but if you read the article, you’ll see there is some good reasoning behind it. I know from experience that it’s easy to make formula errors, especially during a long slog preparing data and formulas for review. I found and corrected several spreadsheet entry and calculation errors made by the financial/pricing analyst during my work on a recent proposal. This is relevant to both financial pros and people like me who’d rather write a program to do all the calculations and then just output them to a results spreadsheet for distribution. The ease of data entry in a spreadsheet and the temptations to take shortcuts are something to remain alert for.

 

Niels Bohr on the Quantum World

“There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.” – Niels Bohr

Great quote by Bohr.

This reminds me of Feynman’s knack for using objects of everyday experience to describe the behavior of things. I can’t remember the specifics but he would use objects such as plates to describe gravitation. If anyone has a link to this, I’ll use it to torture teach my children.

This technique is great because it makes learning relatable to the macro world of things, which means people are much less likely to run from the room than if you give them the equations first thing. You can explain things like why light can be viewed as both a particle and a wave (a wavicle?) and show simple experiments that show it behaving as one or the other.

Then once your student has gotten comfortable with that, you can explain that light is really neither a particle or a wave, that these are helpful metaphors but don’t represent “reality”. Reality in physics is modeled in equations. We measure phenomena with our instruments but can never approach the underlying noumena, the thing in itself. In fact, it may be meaningless to ask what light, or quarks, or anything else in that realm actually are. Then if the student is still interested, you can go on to explain that reality itself is just a model, created by your brain based on the inputs of your built in instruments, your eyes, ears, …

I’m rambling now, but I think I know what my kids are going to learn tomorrow.

Denying History – A Creationism Scam

Holy crap!

I hadn’t heard about the “technique” of claiming that since history is not directly observable, testable and repeatable, it has no validity in a scientific context and therefore (not sure if this is stated explicitly) is on an equal or inferior rational footing with religion.

Wow. The religionists are very creative in coming up with ways to slap away the hand of science that hovers over their substance-less “theories” and threatens at any time to sweep them away. The thing is, this thinking is fundamentally invalid, like every other creationist “technique” I’ve encountered. I won’t repeat the whole debunking of this “technique” since you can just read the article.

The variety of tactics religionists take to fool themselves and others into accepting their absurd ideas is interesting. It could make a good class on how to recognize fraudulent thinking. The better ones, like the “irreducible complexity” argument a nutbar confidently laid out for me 8 years ago, are fascinating, because they require real thought to discover the underlying false premises.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/11/02/theologians-dont-get-to-slithe/

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson on STEM

This video is exactly right.

Tyson makes a perfect case for why we need to change the way we educate in the US. STEM is critical in teaching people how to solve problems and provides the broad understanding and mental capacity required to create, innovate, and advance a team, a company, a nation, and over time the world. STEM is a primary engine of progress.

Tyson, in this short interview, has given yet another talk that no one should miss, no matter who they are. We as a species are approaching a state in which understanding the idea in this short video can determine our long term survival.