Monthly Archives: February 2010

Scumbag Animal Rights Villains Harass Children for Father's Speech

This post is off-topic for this blog, but there are some things that
I just can’t keep quiet about.

Via my friend and fellow ScienceBlogger Janet over at Adventures in
Ethics and Science
, I’ve heard about some absolutely disgraceful
antics by an animal rights group. To be clear, in what follows, I’m not saying that all animal rights folks are scumbags: I’m pointing out that there’s a specific group of animal rights folks who are sickening monsters for what they’re doing.

The background: There’s a neurobiologist named Dario Ringach. Professor
Ringach used to do research using primates. Back in 2006, when he did
that, animal rights targeted him, and his children. The did things
like vandalize his house, put on masks and bang on his childrens windows, and
protest at his children’s schools. Professor Ringach disappointingly but
understandably gave in, and abandoned his research in order to protect his

Fast forward a couple of years. Last week, Dr. Ringach, along with Janet and
several other people, participated in a public dialogue about animal
research at UCLA. Dr. Ringach spoke about why animal research is important. That’s
all that he did: present an explanation of why animal research is

For that, for being willing to participate in a discussion, for saying
something the animals right people didn’t like
, the animal rights thugs
have decided to protest. That’s bad enough: to stage disruptions against a
professor simply because he said something that you didn’t like. No, that’s
not enough for these rat bastard assholes. They’re going to stage protests at
his children’s school. They’re going to harass his children
to punish him for speaking when they want him to shut up.

I don’t care what you think of animal rights. I don’t care what you think
about any topic. Harassment isn’t an acceptable response to speech.
And no matter what, children should be off limits. Even if their father were
everything that the AR people claim that he is: if he really were a person who
tortured and murdered people for fun, going after his children would be
a disgusting, disgraceful, evil thing to do. To do it just because
he dared to talk about something they don’t like? These people deserve
to be publicly condemned, and criminally prosecuted. Threats and harassment
have no place in public discourse.

Personally, I’m a strong supporter of animal research. Of course it’s
important to minimize any pain and suffering that is inflicted on the animals
used in research – but people who do the research, and the organizations that
oversee them, are extremely careful about ensuring that. And animal research
shouldn’t be done for trivial purposes: the work must be important enough to
justify subjecting living creatures to it. But the results are worth the cost.
I can say for certain that I wouldn’t be alive today without the
results of animal research: I had life-saving surgery using a technique that
was developed using animals. I rely on medications that were originally
developed using animal models. My mother is alive today because of animal
research: she’s diabetic, and relies on both insulin and medications which
were developed using animal research. My father survived cancer for 15 years
because of animal research: his cancer was treated using a radiation therapy
technique that was generated using animal research. My sister isn’t a cripple
today, because of animal research. She had severe scoliosis which would have
crippled her, but which was corrected using a surgical technique developed
using animals. My wife would be terribly ill without animal research: she’s
got an autoimmune disorder that damages the thyroid; people with it need to
take thyroid hormone replacements, developed – all together now – using animal
research. I could easily go on: there’s probably barely a person alive today
who hasn’t benefited dramatically from animal research. It’s an essential
tool of science.

While I’m ranting: one of the common responses from the animal rights
people is that we don’t need animals for experimentation: we can use computer
simulation, which will (supposedly) be more accurate, because we can use human
biology in the simulation, whereas animals used as models are often
significantly different from humans, so that the results of tests on animals
don’t translate well to humans.

Everyone must, by now, have heard of the programmers mantra: GIGO: garbage
in, garbage out. A simulation is only as good as the knowledge of the person
who wrote it. You can only simulate what you understand. The problem
with computer models for medical tests is that most of the time, we don’t
how things work. The research is being done on animals precisely
because we don’t know enough about it to simulate it. For one simple example,
consider cancer. There’s a lot of animal research done where we basically
deliberately give cancer to an animal. We can’t simulate that, because the way
that cancers grow and spread is still a mystery. We don’t understand exactly
what triggers a cancer; we don’t completely understand the biological
processes going on in cancer cells, or exactly what the difference between a
cancer cell and a normal cell is. We can’t simulate that. Or, rather,
we can, but only as an experiment with a real-world counterpart to verify it.

In any case, getting back to the original point: it really doesn’t matter
whether you agree with animal research or not. The important point here is
that using intimidation, threats, and harassment the way these AR groups are
doing is absolutely, unequivocably wrong. And to extend it from the
scientist to his children is beyond wrong. It’s downright evil. And
to harass both the scientist and his children not for doing the
research that they object to, but for talking about why that research
is important? I simply do not have the words to express how repugnant it is.

Friday Random Ten, 2/19/2010

  1. Transatlantic, “The Whirlwind (Part 4) – A Man Can Feel”:
    a track from the new Transatlantic album. Transatlantic is
    a supergroup: it’s made of members of Marillion (Pete Trevawas on
    bass), the Flower Kings (Roine Stolte, guitar), Spock’s Beard (Neil
    Morse, vocals and keyboards), and Dream Theater (Mike Portnoy, drums).
    In general, I don’t like supergroups; they’re usually more of a
    commercial stunt than anything else. But I love Transatlantic;
    and this album is fantastic – it’s a bit less smooth
    than some of Transatlantic’s earlier work, but the writing is
    fantastic. Highly recommended.
  2. Do Make Say Think, “Fredericia”: a very typical track
    by one of my favorite post-rock ensembles. In sound, they’re
    somewhere in between Mogwai and Godspeed, with a bit of classical
  3. Marillion, “Man of a Thousand Faces”: absolutely classic
    Marillion. One of the things that Yes used to do that I love
    is slow builds. They start with a simple pattern, and repeat
    over and over, adding another layer each repetition. This song is
    the only time that I recall Marillion doing it, and it’s
  4. Abigail’s Ghost, “Gemini Man”: a big disappointment. A bunch
    of people recommended Abigail’s Ghost to me as a great neo-prog
    band. I find them incredibly dull. Pretty much the only time I
    hear them is when they come up randomly, because I never choose
    to listen to them.
  5. The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, “Sam”: wonderful jazz-influenced
    Klezmer. When they’re actually playing Klezmer, FBKB is fantastic.
    Unfortunately, they often introduce songs with a sort of beat-inspired
    poetry recitation, which is just annoying.
  6. The Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra, “Galitzianer Chusid”:
    more Klezmer! Andy Statman plays very traditional klezmer. This
    one I feel a special connection to. My mother’s family are Litvaks,
    and my father was a Galitzianer. (That is, ashkenazi Jews from
    Lithuania and Galacia, respectively.) Traditionally, the Litvaks
    were wealthier, and looked down on the Galitzianers. My grandparents
    used to tell my mother that if she weren’t good, she’d grow up
    and marry a Galitzianer. And she did – and they were happily married
    for 44 years.
  7. Peter Gabriel, “The Rhythm of the Heat”: utterly wonderful
    old Peter Gabriel. Security is still my favorite of his albums,
    and this is my favorite track off the album.
  8. Kansas, “Distant Vision”: Often when an old band gets back
    together, it’s pure tripe. And Kansas has reformed itself several
    times over the years, only to produce more tripe. This time they
    got it right. This album sounds like what you’d expect the old
    Kansas to sound like if they were writing in the 2000’s. It’s
    not exactly like their old stuff – it’s grown over time – but it’s
    got all of the beauty, complexity, and quality of their older stuff.
    The lead singers voice has suffered a bit with age; he can’t quite
    pull off some of the stuff he tries to do. But it’s good stuff
  9. Parallel or 90 Degrees, “Entry Level”: Andy Tillison has
    been very busy lately, coming out with new albums from both
    Po90 and the Tangent. Of the two, I think that the new Po90 is
    the better album – I think it’s absolutely terrific.
  10. Roine Stolte, “Spirit of the Rebel”: the leader of
    the Flower Kings recorded a solo album, which was intended to
    be a tribute to the pop bands he grew up listening to. But Stolte
    being Stolte, even when he’s trying to play pop and R&B,
    he still manages to play better prog than 9 out of 10 prog bands.
    It’s definitely on the pop side, much less challenging that
    tFK, but it’s really good stuff.

Disco Strikes Out Again: Casey Luskin, Kitzmiller, and New Information

For a lot of people, I seem to have become the go-to blogger for
information theory stuff. I really don’t deserve it: Jeff Shallit at
Recursivity knows a whole lot more than I do. But I do my best.

Anyway, several people pointed out that over at the Disco Institute,
resident Legal Eagle Casey Luskin has started posting an eight-part
series on how the Kitzmiller case (the legal case concerning the teaching of
intelligent design in Dover PA) was decided wrong. In Kitzmiller, the
intelligent design folks didn’t just lose; they utterly humiliated themselves.
But Casey has taken it on himself to demonstrate why, not only did they
not make themselves look like a bunch of dumb-asses, but they
in fact should have won, had the judge not been horribly biased against them.

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The End of Defining Chaos: Mixing it all together

The last major property of a chaotic system is topological mixing. You can
think of mixing as being, in some sense, the opposite of the dense periodic
orbits property. Intuitively, the dense orbits tell you that things that are
arbitrarily close together for arbitrarily long periods of time can have
vastly different behaviors. Mixing means that things that are arbitrarily far
apart will eventually wind up looking nearly the same – if only for a little

Let’s start with a formal definition.

As you can guess from the name, topological mixing is a property defined
using topology. In topology, we generally define things in terms of open sets
and neighborhoods. I don’t want to go too deep into detail – but an
open set captures the notion of a collection of points with a well-defined boundary
that is not part of the set. So, for example, in a simple 2-dimensional
euclidean space, the contents of a circle are one kind of open set; the boundary is
the circle itself.

Now, imagine that you’ve got a dynamical system whose phase space is
defined as a topological space. The system is defined by a recurrence
relation: sn+1 = f(sn). Now, suppose that in this
dynamical system, we can expand the state function so that it works as a
continous map over sets. So if we have an open set of points A, then we can
talk about the set of points that that open set will be mapped to by f. Speaking
informally, we can say that if B=f(A), B is the space of points that could be mapped
to by points in A.

The phase space is topologically mixing if, for any two open spaces A
and B, there is some integer N such that fN(A) ∩ B &neq; 0. That is, no matter where you start,
no matter how far away you are from some other point, eventually,
you’ll wind up arbitrarily close to that other point. (Note: I originally left out the quantification of N.)

Now, let’s put that together with the other basic properties of
a chaotic system. In informal terms, what it means is:

  1. Exactly where you start has a huge impact on where you’ll end up.
  2. No matter how close together two points are, no matter how long their
    trajectories are close together, at any time, they can
    suddenly go in completely different directions.
  3. No matter how far apart two points are, no matter how long
    their trajectories stay far apart, eventually, they’ll
    wind up in almost the same place.

All of this is a fancy and complicated way of saying that in a chaotic
system, you never know what the heck is going to happen. No matter how long
the system’s behavior appears to be perfectly stable and predictable, there’s
absolutely no guarantee that the behavior is actually in a periodic orbit. It
could, at any time, diverge into something totally unpredictable.

Anyway – I’ve spent more than enough time on the definition; I think I’ve
pretty well driven this into the ground. But I hope that in doing so, I’ve
gotten across the degree of unpredictability of a chaotic system. There’s a
reason that chaotic systems are considered to be a nightmare for numerical
analysis of dynamical systems. It means that the most miniscule errors
in any aspect of anything will produce drastic divergence.

So when you build a model of a chaotic system, you know that it’s going to
break down. No matter how careful you are, even if you had impossibly perfect measurements,
just the nature of numerical computation – the limited precision and roundoff
errors of numerical representations – mean that your model is going to break.

From here, I’m going to move from defining things to analyzing things. Chaotic
systems are a nightmare for modeling. But there are ways of recognizing when
a systems behavior is going to become chaotic. What I’m going to do next is look
at how we can describe and analyze systems in order to recognize and predict
when they’ll become chaotic.

A Crank among Cranks: Debating John Gabriel

So, remember back in December, I wrote a post about a Cantor crank who had a Knol page supposedly refuting Cantor’s diagonalization?

This week, I foolishly let myself get drawn into an extended conversation with him in comments. Since it’s a comment thread on an old post that had been inactive for close to two months before this started, I assume most people haven’t followed it. In an attempt to salvage something from the time I wasted with him, I’m going to share the discussion with you in this new post. It’s entertaining, in a pathetic sort of way; and it’s enlightening, in that it’s one of the most perfect demonstrations of the behavior of a crank that I’ve yet encountered. Enjoy!

I’m going to edit for formatting purposes, and I’ll interject a few comments, but the text of the messages is absolutely untouched – which you can verify, if you want, by checking the comment thread on the original post. The actual discussion starts with this comment, although there’s a bit of content-free back and forth in the dozen or so comments before that.

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