Measured Against Reality

Monday, March 24, 2008

Civil Rights Webcomic

So the ACLU has started a new Civil Rights webcomic, and wouldn't you know what the first one is about:

In case you're unaware, that's my high school, and my principal. I was utterly unsurprised when this happened, as it's exactly the reaction I would have expected from him. It's also utterly absurd, given that seniors do an archery unit in Gym. I can't really tell why arrows shot from bows are ok in our gym, but a picture of a sword isn't. I guess it's just school administrator logic.

So that's my town's

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Atheist Apocalypse

This comic, called "The Atheist Apocalypse is incredibly good. In case you couldn't tell, the horsemen are:

Science: Richard Dawkins
Reason: Daniel Dennet
Progress: Sam Harris
Equality: Christopher Hitchens.

I'm pretty confident about the first two, and fairly sure about the second, but they're less obviously portrayed. In fact, Hitchens looks significantly better in the comic than in real life, or at least many years younger.

At any rate, go read it. Poke around too, the rest of the comics are quite funny, and worth the annoyance of navigating the site (which isn't exactly like most webcomics).

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bias in Science

This month The American has a great article about gender bias in science. It's pretty much exactly what I thought: there might be some bias, but if there is it's small. The lack of women in science, math, and engineering isn't due to biased behavior but the same kind of things that result in a lack of men in social sciences and education (etc). For some reason people have a hard time accepting that men and women prefer different things (according to distributions, of course), and that would seem to be the utterly logical and predictable cause of this oft-decried disparity. The article also discusses attempts to "title-nine" the sciences, which would be disastrous. I know for a fact that title nine results in odd (and arguably discriminatory) situations like women's teams in obscure sports (like crew) getting much more money than men's teams to offset things like football programs, at least at Stanford (unless my friend who used to be on Stanford women's crew was lying/wrong).

The article is quite long and goes into great depth. Here's the punchline in case you're pressed for time:

The power and glory of science and engineer­ing is that they are, adamantly, evidence-based. But the evidence of gender bias in math and science is flimsy at best, and the evidence that women are relatively disinclined to pursue these fields at the highest levels is serious. When the bastions of science pay obsequious attention to the flimsy and turn a blind eye to the serious, it is hard to maintain the view that the science enterprise is somehow immune to the enthu­siasms that have corrupted other, supposedly “softer” academic fields.

Few academic scientists know anything about the equity crusade. Most have no idea of its power, its scope, and the threats that they may soon be facing. The business commu­nity and citizens at large are completely in the dark. This is a quiet revolution. Its weapons are government reports that are rarely seen; amendments to federal bills that almost no one reads; small, unnoticed, but dramatically con­sequential changes in the regulations regarding government grants; and congressional hearings attended mostly by true believers.

American scientific excellence is a precious national resource. It is the foundation of our economy and of the nation’s health and safety. Norman Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Burton Richter, Nobel laureate in physics, once pointed out that MIT alone—its faculty, alumni, and staff—started more than 5,000 companies in the past 50 years. Will an academic science that is quota-driven, gender-balanced, cooperative rather than competitive, and less time-consuming produce anything like these results? So far, no one in Congress has even thought to ask.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 02, 2008

8 Presidential Losers Speak Their Piece

The NYTimes today has an interesting collection of what drop-out candidates would be talking about if they were still in the race. The contributors are Biden, Brownback, Dodd, Thompson, Richardson, Hunter, Kucinich, and Tancredo.

The interesting thing is the disparity between what the Democrats talk about and what the Republicans talk about. According to the Democrats our priorities should be: securing Afghanistan and its border with Pakistan, fixing crumbling infrastructure, enacting comprehensive mortgage reform, and helping to stave off the foreclosure crisis. According to the Republicans our priorities should be: fixing eroding "family values", FDA and health care reform and increased medical research grants, bringing back manufacturing jobs, and border security.

With the exception of Thompson's piece, the Republican positions are either idiotic or delusional: you can't legislate "family values", no matter how hard you try; our economy has to transition into something besides manufacturing, the days of high-school grads powering our economy though their strength are way gone; and border security is little more than xenophobic frenzy, immigrants (legal or illegal) aren't nearly as dangerous as most think, from what I've read they're more likely beneficial.

The Democrats at least have worthwhile proposals that would benefit people, even though I have doubts about Kucinich's foreclosure plans, I'm not sure a government bail-out is possible or wise, but at least he wants to help people.

I think the most useful one to add to the discussion is the infrastructure piece, we really do need to re-think our commitment to our infrastructure. If we keep on the path we're on we might have some serious trouble down the road.

But all of these pieces are valuable, if only as a snapshot of what people are thinking right now.