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Missing Link?

Creationists are deeply enamored of the fossil record, because they have been taught (by each other) to repeat, over and over, the mantra that it is full of “gaps”: “Show me your ‘intermediates!’” They fondly (very fondly) imagine that these “gaps” are an embarrassment to evolutionists. Actually, we are lucky to have any fossils at all, let alone the massive numbers that we now do have to document evolutionary history—large numbers of which, by any standards, constitute beautiful “intermediates.” We don’t need fossils in order to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution would be entirely secure even if not a single corpse had ever fossilized. It is a bonus that we do actually have rich seams of fossils to mine, and more are discovered every day. The fossil evidence for evolution in many major animal groups is wonderfully strong. Nevertheless there are, of course, gaps, and creationists love them obsessively.

Let’s again make use of our analogy of the detective coming to the scene of a crime to which there were no eye witnesses. The baronet has been shot. Fingerprints, footprints, DNA from a sweat stain on the pistol, and a strong motive all point towards the butler. It’s pretty much an open and shut case, and the jury and everybody in the court is convinced that the butler did it. But a last-minute piece of evidence is discovered, in the nick of time before the jury retires to consider what had seemed to be their inevitable verdict of guilty: somebody remembers that the baronet had installed spy cameras against burglars. With bated breath, the court watches the films. One of them shows the butler in the act of opening the drawer in his pantry, taking out a pistol, loading it, and creeping stealthily out of the room with a malevolent gleam in his eye. You might think that this solidifies the case against the butler even further. Mark the sequel, however. The butler’s defence lawyer astutely points out that there was no spy camera in the library where the murder took place, and no spy camera in the corridor leading from the butler’s pantry. He wags his finger, in that compelling way that lawyers have made their own. ‘There’s a gap in the video record! We don’t know what happened after the butler left the pantry. There is clearly insufficient evidence to convict my client.’

In vain the prosecution lawyer points out that there was a second camera in the billiard room, and this shows, through the open door, the butler, gun at the ready, creeping on tiptoe along the passage towards the library. Surely this plugs the gap in the video record? Surely the case against the butler is now unassailable? But no. Triumphantly the defence lawyer plays his ace. ‘We don’t know what happened before or after the butler passed the open door of the billiard room. There are now two gaps in the video record. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my case rests. There is now even less evidence against my client than there was before.’

The fossil record, like the spy camera in the murder story, is a bonus, something that we had no right to expect as a matter of entitlement. There is already more than enough evidence to convict the butler without the spy camera, and the jury were about to deliver a guilty verdict before the spy camera was discovered. Similarly, there is more than enough evidence for the fact of evolution in the comparative study of modern species (Chapter 10) and their geographical distribution (Chapter 9). We don’t need fossils – the case for evolution is watertight without them; so it is paradoxical to use gaps in the fossil record as though they were evidence against evolution. We are, as I say, lucky to have fossils at all.

–Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution

The media appear to have a congenital incapacity for dealing with issues of risk and comparative probabilities—except, of course, in sports and financial sections. If a baseball player hits three home runs in a single game, press reports will include not only notice of that achievement, but also information about the rarity of the event as well as statistics about the hitter’s batting and slugging averages and about how many home runs he normally hits. I may have missed it, but I have never heard anyone in the media stress that in every year except 2001 the number of people in the entire world killed by international terrorism outside of war zones has been a few hundred.

- John Mueller, “overblown:how politicians and the terrorism industry inflate national security threats and why we believe them”

True facts about Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster | Deep Sea News

http://deepseanews.com/2013/11/true-facts-about-ocean-radiation-and-the-fukushima-disaster/

Jan 9

KEVIN CARSON AS DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE

hitchensism:

Dr. Michael Shermer - The Believing Brain

"Science is skeptical because most claims aren’t true, so we start with the assumption that whatever it is you believe is probably not true - until you’ve proved otherwise to us that it is. The burden of proof is on the claimant, not on the skeptics to disprove your claim."

Cognitive scientist Michael Shermer, founder of the skeptic society, discusses how the brain forms beliefs, and how our beliefs tend to precede our search for evidence. A wonderful discussion about cognitive biases, especially our susceptibility to give in to the confirmation bias.

Beware the Panhandlers of a New Inflationary Panacea

laliberty:

It’s important to understand the business cycle:

For centuries inflation has been considered a quick fix for economic problems. Create a lot of money, raise prices, and prosperity for all shall be assured in a short amount of time. …

Putting a lot of more money in people’s hands usually results in their attempting to spend it on the various goods and services they would like to have that money can buy. The greater spending tends to push up prices and increase sales.

The “magic” comes in due to the fact that workers’ wage contracts and resource price agreements tend to change more slowly, so they tend to lag behind the initial price rise of the finished consumer goods those workers and those resource suppliers help to produce. The rise in selling prices while labor and resource prices remain the same generates the extra profit margins that “stimulate” employers to try to expand output and hire more workers. 

But the quick fix of inflation in creating “good times” and more jobs is short lived, is an illusion like many other “fixes” that provide an initial “high” but soon fade away. …

[T]he increased supply of money may push up the prices of consumer goods, while wages and resource prices remain more or less the same. But over time, the attempt to expand output by employers due to the initial higher profit margins will result in wages and resource prices being bid up as each employer competes against the others to attract workers and resource providers to work for them instead of their rivals.

At the same time, inflation-driven rising prices are reducing the real value, or buying power, of each dollar in people’s pockets. Over time, workers and others employed in industry will demand higher wages and resource prices to compensate for the lost purchasing power they have experienced at the old wages and resource prices.

Hence, over time, both selling prices as well as wages and resource prices will tend to go up by more or less the same amount, and the extra profits that served as the “stimulus” will disappear. The longer-run affect, therefore, will be all-round higher prices, with no lasting net increase in either jobs or production.

Of course, the government and its central bank could attempt to increase the money supply even more and at a faster rate than they had before. But this would merely set the economy on a vicious spiral of rising consumer prices followed by rising wages and resource prices bringing about nothing but the same process repeated again and again. The end result would be worsening price inflation and a potential destruction of the country’s currency.

In addition, the very fact that some prices rise before others, and to differing degrees while the inflation is running its course brings with it a whole host of problems that, in fact, represents the boom and bust of the business cycle.

America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, increases the money supply by buying government securities and other assets with the new money first entering the economy through the banking system. Finding themselves, with extra money to lend, banks entice borrowers to borrow more by offering those funds at lower, more attractive interest rates.

The demands and prices for investment and construction projects (including home-building) start to rise, with workers and resource providers drawn into these parts of the economy. Their higher wages and resource earnings enable them to demand more of the goods they can now afford to buy. And the process continues, step-by-step, until more or less all prices and wages will be pushed up to higher levels than before.

But the entire structure of the economy – the demands for investment and construction, the jobs into which workers and others have been drawn through the inflationary spending – is now dependent on the monetary expansion continuing and keeping the patterns of demands and jobs artificially created by this process to continue to go on-and-on.

Once any attempt is made by the central bankers to slow down or stop the monetary expansion in the face of worsening price inflation, the entire house of cards begins to crumble. The boom turns into the bust, as investments undertaken and jobs created are discovered to be the misdirected outcome of money creation and the unsustainable patterns of demand and employments that could last only for as long as the inflationary spiral was kept going.

The “little bit” of inflation that some Harvard economists, Federal Reserve presidents and some in the business world are saying is not only nothing to worry about but is the panacea for all our economic ills, is a phony elixir to cure our national ailments. It will only set America on an even worse inflationary boom-bust rollercoaster than the one that current Federal Reserve monetary policy has been already setting us up for.

(Source: laliberty)

3D printing could cure blindness

conza:

"A short film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, 2081 depicts a dystopian future in which, thanks to the 212th Amendment to the Constitution and the vigilance of the United States Handicapper General, everyone is “finally equal….” The strong wear weights, the beautiful wear masks and the intelligent wear earpieces that fire off loud noises to keep them from taking unfair advantage of their brains. It is a poetic tale of triumph and tragedy about a broken family, a brutal government, and an act of defiance that changes everything.”
          — FinallyEqual.com

There’s a lot to take away from this short but above all else I gathered a new found appreciation for specialisation and individual excellence in and of itself. Set aside and remove all distractions. A must watch.

Harrison Bergeron is one of my favorite Vonnegut stories. Great post too. 

Scarcity

Written by a friend of mine. Check out his blog here.

Scarcity. What is scarce and what isn’t? Is information scarce? Will 3D printers bring about an era of ‘post-scarcity’? Some say that air isn’t scarce and hydrogen isn’t scarce. We can all agree that platinum is pretty scarce, and in discussions about Bitcoin, one tends to hear the term ‘artificial scarcity’ fairly often.

Absolutely everything is scarce. Scarcity is an inescapable condition of existence and there is no possible way it can ever be avoided. It applies to everything. Additionally, scarcity is binary and cannot be mitigated. The colloquial definition of scarcity is what is referred to as “abundance”. How much ‘stuff’ there is available relative to the demand. There’s a huge demand for air but there’s just so much of it, it’s super-abundant.

The formal definition of scarcity in an economic context only refers to the aspect of limitation in reality. All human action comes down to a matter of choice – what means we choose to employ to reach our desired ends and when. But why do we need to choose in the first place? Simply put, it’s because we can’t have everything at the same time. Why? Scarcity.

All day, every day, we are at the mercy of the inherent limitation of reality. There is a finite amount of time in a day, and nothing happens instantly. We must make choices on how to spend this limited time to maximize our happiness. If we can have or do two things at once, we don’t need to make a choice between them. I don’t need to choose to read or chew gum, I can do them both at the same time (though I still must choose what to read and what to chew). If there was no scarcity, no choice at all would ever need to be made – humans would not act. There would be no reason to, we would have everything at the same time, do everything at the same time, and be everywhere at the same time. Nobody would have to make anything, everything would all exist everywhere needed simultaneously.

While resources may be abundant or rare, scarcity is not a property of certain things and not others, it refers to the general state of limitation and nothing is exempt. Information is no different. Some look at the fact that digital information is easily duplicated and transmitted and say that information is ‘post-scarce’ (a wholly meaningless term). There is still a finite amount of information that can be stored, information cannot instantly be copied, and only a certain amount can be processed at any time. Just because something may not be ‘material’ or ‘tangible’ does not mean scarcity has been avoided. The ‘artificial scarcity’ of Bitcoin is nothing more than limitation applied to Bitcoins to control how many may exist, making sure Bitcoins do not become overabundant so they maintain value – it’s not impossible to ‘make’ Bitcoins, but if 1,000 could be made in a second by anybody, the purpose would be defeated.

No technology, existing or theoretical has the possibly of changing any of this. 3D printers do not ‘solve’ scarcity for reasons that should be apparent – they take time, they can only print one thing at one time, and the materials used to make object A cannot make object B. Even if I had a magical box full of apples that never ran out, nothing would change. Scarcity is completely inescapable.

Nothing can be ‘post-scarce’, scarcity is an ever-present force in reality. We are mortal beings forever dealing with finite quantities of finite things in finite space with finite amounts of energy at finite speeds. To deny this or to believe this will ever change is to deny the most fundamental facts of existence.