Monthly Archives: August 2009

Bill Dembski Weasels Under Even My Low Expectations

A brief disclaimer before I start. I do not read Uncommon Descent. I didn’t check
it before writing my post yesterday. So I didn’t know about the content of Dembski’s
post there that I’m about to write about, until I saw Bob O’H‘s comment on my post this morning.

Yesterday, I explained how he used Dawkins’ “weasel” experiment as an example
of his and Marks’ approach to quantifying the information in search. I said that
it was a lousy example for what it was purportedly being used to demonstrate. And I
theorized that he wanted to claim peer-review approval for his “critique” of Dawkins.

Unbeknownst to me, before I even wrote those words, Dembski had already
done that, over on UD (as usual, I refuse to link to UD; you know where to find them
if you really must):

P.S. Our critics will immediately say that this really isn’t a pro-ID article but that it’s about something else (I’ve seen this line now for over a decade once work on ID started encroaching into peer-review territory). Before you believe this, have a look at the article. In it we critique, for instance, Richard Dawkins METHINKS*IT*IS*LIKE*A*WEASEL (p. 1055). Question: When Dawkins introduced this example, was he arguing pro-Darwinism? Yes he was. In critiquing his example and arguing that information is not created by unguided evolutionary processes, we are indeed making an argument that supports ID.

Umm… Bill, the reason that your critics say it isn’t a pro-ID article is because
it doesn’t talk about intelligent design. It’s a rather dull math paper
about how to quantify the information content of a search algorithm that that
allows it to perform well in a particular kind of search domain.

And the paper doesn’t critique Dawkins’ experiment at all! It
describes a variant of the “Weasel” experiment as an example of how
to quantify the landscape information in a partitioned search. It doesn’t
critique that at all; it just presents a straightforward analysis of it.
So it doesn’t actually critique anything.

But more importantly: as people have explained to you hundreds of times by now, Dawkins’ didn’t use locking. Dawkins’ search algorithm was not
partitioned search
. In fact, the algorithm that Dawkins’ used can’t be
modeled as a partitioning search at all.

So, as usual… Dembski is a liar. At this point, there’s just no way to
excuse him. I don’t consider him to be a particularly competent mathematician – but
ignorance and incompetence are no longer an adequate explanation of his rubbish. He’s
had the locking error pointed out to him numerous times; he’s had the difference explained
to him, demonstrated to him, proven to him numerous times – but he still keeps
harping on the incorrect version of the experiment, because it’s an easier target.

Quick Critique: Dembski and Marks in IEEE Journal

As lots of you have heard, William Dembski and Robert Marks just had a
paper published in an IEEE journal
. In the last couple of days, I’ve received about 30
copies of the paper in my email with requests to analyze it.

My biggest criticism of the paper is how utterly dull it is. It’s obvious
how they got it published – they removed anything that’s really interesting from it. It’s
a rehash of the stuff they’ve written before, stripped of any content that directly hints
at the anti-evolution part of their claims – which leaves a not-particularly-interesting
paper on search algorithms.

I’m not going to rehash my primary criticisms of Dembski’s approach here – I’ve done it lots of times before, most recently in this post, which critiques a very closely related paper by D&M. In fact, this paper
is really just an edited version of the one I critiqued in that post: it’s that paper with all of the intelligent-design speak removed.

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Friday Random Ten, August 14

  1. Peter Hamill, “The Unconscious Life”: A track from an amazing live
    performance. In general, I’m not a big fan of live recordings – you really need
    to be there for a live performance. There’s a dynamic between the performer
    and the audience in live music, and in a recording, you’re listening to it from
    the outside – so you can feel that there’s something missing. This recording has an
    intensity, an intimacy, which is extraordinary. And it’s a great song, too.
  2. Valley of the Giants, “Whaling Tale”: Valley of the Giants has taken its
    place as my favorite post-rock band – surpassing even “Godspeed You Black Emperor!”.
    This track is very godspeed-like, but it manages to carry it out better than
    even Godspeed would have.
  3. Black Math Horseman, “Deerslayer”: This is a hard group to describe.
    It’s sort of like a cross between Mogwai, Sonic Youth, and King Crimson. They’re not really post-rock, and they’re not really prog rock, but they’ve got elements of both. They’ve got a really great sound. I haven’t listened to them enough to get a really
    good feel, but they’re definitely worth a listen.
  4. The Flower Kings, “The Rainmaker”: What can I say about the Flower Kings
    that I haven’t said before?
  5. Marillion, “The Only Unforgivable Thing”: a vaguely poppy track from
    Marillion’s second-best album. It’s slow, with the feel and structure
    of a pop ballad, but the lyrics are very un-ballad-like, and it’s got a ton
    of subtle complexity. Classic Marillion.
  6. Riverside, “Cybernetic Pillow”: I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned
    Riverside before. They’re a really fantastic neo-progressive band from
    Poland that I discovered lately. They’re really remarkable – they’ve got
    an amazing sound, which is very distinct from anything else. Most neo-prog
    bands, you can listen to, and say their main inspiration is Genesis, or Yes,
    or Pink Floyd, or whatever. With Riverside, I can’t do that. They sound like
    themselves, and nothing else. I’ve embedded a Youtube live video of this
    song below.
  7. Gong, “Damaged Man”: A very typical Gong track, if there is such a thing.
  8. Porcupine Tree, “Sentimental”
  9. Rush, “Red Lenses”: a nice old classic Rush track.
  10. The Reasoning, “Shadows of the Mind”: another recent discovery for me;
    The Reasoning is a decent neo-prog band. They’re not great, but they’re good,
    and they do some terrific multipart vocal harmony.

Disco Goes Digital

It sometimes seems like every day, some “intelligent design” bozo comes out with
another book rehashing the same-old crap. I usually ignore it. But this time, I felt
like the promotional materials for one of the new books really stepped right into my
part of the world, rhetorically speaking, and so I figured I should give it a
quick smackdown.

The book in question is Stephen C. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”. Meyer’s argument
basically comes down to one that is seems like we’ve heard and dealt with a thousand times already. There’s stuff in the cell which looks kinda-sorta like a machine if you look at it in the right way, and since machines were designed, therefore so were cells.

If that’s all he said, I’d just ignore him. Why rehash the same old shit? But no. This time, the DI needed to add a youtube video, which makes some amazingly strong, unsupported claims.

The official description of this is “This animation shows how the digital information encoded in DNA directs protein synthesis inside the cell and provides a unique look at the evidence for intelligent design as described in Dr. Stephen C. Meyers book Signature in the Cell”. The soundtrack, if you pay attention to it, repeats that claim several times in several ways: that DNA is specifically digital information, and that therefore the processes that operate on DNA are effectively digital computations, and since everyone knows that a digital computer required intelligent humans to design it, it’s impossible that the “digital computer” in the cell evolved.

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The Chevy Volt Gets 230 mpg? Only if you use bad math.

Here’s a quick bit of obnoxious bad math. I saw this myself in a link to an AP article via, and a reader sent me a link
to the same story via CNN. It’s yet another example of what I call a metric error: that is, the use of a measurement in a way that makes it appear to mean something very different than what it really means.

Here’s the story. Chevy is coming out with a very cool new car, the Volt. It’s
a hybrid with massive batteries. It plugs in to your household electricity when you’re home to charge its batteries. It operates as an electric car until its batteries start to get low, and then it starts running a small gas motor to power a generator. It’s a very cool idea. I’m honestly excited about cars like the volt – and Google helped develop the technology behind it, which biases me even more in its favor. So you’d expect me to be very supportive of the hype around it, right? I wish I could. But GM has decided that the best way to promote it is to use bad math to tell lies to make it look even better than it really is.

Chevy has announced that for city driving, the Volt will get gas mileage of 230 miles per gallon.

That’s nonsense. Pure, utter rubbish.

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I am the antichrist. No, really!

I normally try to ignore things like this, but this is just too funny.

In general, I find arguments like this to be extremely silly. This is, basically, like
playing with gematria – only instead of doing real gematria (which can be quite silly enough),
it’s like our friend “Gotcha” – mixing systems and screwing things up until you get the results
you want.

Lots of the particularly crazy strain of Christians really, desperately want to believe
that Barack Obama is the antichrist. They want an explanation for how this black man with
a muslim name could possible have actually been elected – they don’t believe it could possibly
have happened honestly. And their doctrine requires the antichrist to come soon. Combine
those two, and you’ve got what, for them, is a sort of perfect storm.

Which gives us things like this. For more mockery, see beneath the fold.

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The Pentatonic is Fundamental: a Video Demo

As long-time readers know, I’m an amateur musician, from a very musical family. My sister is a music teacher, and my brother used to be a professional french horn player and composer. I personally play classical clarinet, a very wide range of folk-flutes, and some bluegrass banjo.

As long as I’ve studied music, my teachers have always talked about how fundamental the pentatonic scale is. For those who don’t know, the pentatonic
scale is a basic scale which has five distinct notes per octave, instead of the 7 of the traditional diatonic scale, or the 12 of the chromatic scale. For example, the
pentatonic scale starting at C is the notes C, D, E, G, A, and back to C.

I’ve never really grasped what’s so fundamental about it. It’s
got a beautiful sound – but just looking at it, it’s hard to see what makes it more
fundamental than any other scale. It’s not an evenly distributed scale – the
steps are second, second, minor third, second, minor third. But there’s something
about it.

This video shows just how fundamental it is. Without being told to, people will
naturally sing the steps of the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale is wired into our brains. Watch and be amazed!

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.