Monday, August 01, 2005

(**) Science Friction by Michael Shermer

This book covers a wide range of topics by the author of the 'Skeptic' column in Scientific American. You'll learn a little about Michael Shermer - he was an endurance cyclist, studied for the clery originally before he discovered science, and witnessed his mother succumb to cancer. You'll also learn about yourself, the many faults of creationism, discrimination of atheists, and that we may never run out of oil. Worth a quick read if you like his column.


“In one study on Stanford University students, when asked to compare themselves to their peers on such personal qualities as friendliness, they predictably rated themselves higher. Even when subjects were warned about the ‘better than average’ bias, and asked to reevaluate their original assessments, 63% claimed that their initial evaluations were objective, and 13% even claimed to be too modest!... In a second study, the authors randomly assigned subjects with high or low scores on a ‘social intelligence’ test. Unsurprisingly, those given the [unearned] high marks rated the test fairer and more useful that those receiving the low marks. When asked if they had been influenced by the score on the test, subjects responded that other participants were negatively, but not them! In a 3rd study, [the authors] queried subjects about what method they used to assess their own and others’ biases, they found that people tend to use general theories of behavior when evaluating others, but use introspection when appraising themselves; but in what is called the ‘introspection illusion’, people do not believe that others can be trusted do the same. Okay for me, but not for thee.” pXXII

[From a UCB study] “on why people say they believe in God, and why they think other people believe in God. In general, most people attribute their own belief in God to such intellectual reasons as the good design of complexity of the world, whereas the attribute others’ belief in God to such emotional reasons as it is comforting, gives meaning, and they were raised to believe.” pXXII

“Dow corning had to pay $4.25B to settle 10s of 1000s of claims. The only problem was, there is no connection between silicone breast implants and any of the diseases linked to them in these trials. After multiple indepedend studies by reputable scientific institutions in no way connected to either the corporation or any of the litigants declared that this was a case of ‘junk science’ in the courtroom… If 1% of American women have silicone breast implants, and 1% of women have autoimmune or degenerative tissue diseases, with millions of women in each of these categorie, by chance 10’s of 1000’s will have both implants and disease, even though there is no causal connection. That’s all there is to it.”p XXIV

“A team of geneticists sampled 12,127 men from 163 Asian and Oceanic populations, tracking 3 genetic markers on the Y chromosome. What they discovered was that every one of their subjects carried a mutation at one of these 3 sites that can be traced back to a single African population some 35,000 to 89,000 years ago.” pXXX

[You can pretend to be a good listener simply by] “adopting a soft voice, a calm demeanor, and sympathetic and nonconfrontational body language: a pleasant smile, constant eye contact, head tilted to one side, facing the subject with legs together (not crossed) and arms unfolded.” P4

“In 1999 a Gallup poll inquired of Americans: “If your political party nominated a generally well qualified person for President who happened to be an X would you vote for that person? X represents Catholic, Jew, Baptist, Mormon, black, homosexual, woman, and atheist. 6 out of the 8 received more than 90% approval… only 59% said they would vote for a homosexual, and 49% would vote for an atheist.” P19 We need equal rights for atheists!!

“60% of American scientists are agnostic or atheist, and a stunning 93% of those scientists good enough to be elected to the Natl Academy Sciences are agnostic or atheist.” P22

“Survey data show that over ½ of all Americans with post graduate degrees believe in the devil, Hell, miracles, afterlife, virgin birth, and the resurrection.” P23

“From the very first time I heard this ‘bright’ idea a couple of months ago I thought it was dumb. After thinking about it some more, the conclusion I’ve come up with is that it is even dumber that I originally thought.” P29

“The reason scientists think that hydrocarbons [fossil fuels] have their origin in dead plants is that petroleum contains molecules that are typically the by product of decaying organic matter. Also when you pass light through petroleum it exhibits an optical property of rotating in a right handed fashion, which is the result of having more right handed molecules. The reason for this, says Thomas Gold of Cornell, is that petroleum and other hydrocarbons have seeped up through the rocks from 10s of KMs below the surface, and in doing so have absorbed organic matter along the way. These organic signs, he concludes are secondary to the true origin of hydrocarbons. Evidence for Gold’s theory comes from numerous sources: petroleum from deeper levels in the crust contains fewer signs of biological origin that petroleum from shallower levels; oil from different regions of the planet should show differing chemical signs because of the different form of life from which it was allegedly formed, yet all oil shows a common chemical signature, which you would expect if it had a common origin deep inside the earth; [if the common existing theory is correct] one would expect to find oil at geological levels of abundant plant life but in fact, it is found below such layers; the natural gas methane is found in many locations where life most likely did not thrive; diamonds are carbon crushed under high pressure, which implies the presence of carbon 100s of KM below the surface. Perhaps most striking, Gold notes that most oil fields contain far more reserves than oil companies anticipated because, he argues, they are refilled from the much larger hydrocarbon supply lying below – the drop in pressure in the oil cavity caused by drilling draws the hydocarbons from the higher pressure cavities below. Finally, the earth’s surface is very rich in carbonate rocks, which are loaded with carbon. Gold believes that the source of the carbon is not biological but astronomical – the earth was formed by an accretion of rocks similar to meteorites…one type of which is carbonaceous chondrite. When heated under the extreme pressure of a condensing earth they have released substantial quantities of hydrocarbons. Lighter than the surrounding material, they would then rise toward the surface, thus accounting for the high hydrocarbon content of the earth’s crust.” P 47 This means that we will probably never run out of oil! Time to short oil futures and oil stocks!! And time to sell that hybrid and buy an SUV. I’m going to read Gold’s book “The Deep Biosphere” soon.

Darwin’s Dictum: “All obversations must be for or against some view [theory] if they are to be on any service.” P71

“[Researchers have] discovered that the presence of other competitors and/or spectators motivates athletes to higher levels of performance… Studies show that a cyclist will ride faster even when another cyclist is just riding alongside or behind (and therefore not gaining a drafting advantage), and on average cyclists will race faster against a competitor that against the clock. Why? One reason is social facilitation, a theory where individual behavior is shaped by the presence and motivation of a group. What is actually going on inside the brain and body?... We see that competition provides the promise of positive and the threat of negative reinforcements, stimulates an increase in activity and arousal, and locks the athlete into a feedback loop between performance expectations and actual outcomes.” P94

“The level of superstition among Trobriand island fisherman depended on the level of uncertainty of the outcome – the farther out to sea they went, the more complex their superstitions rituals became… Baseball batters are notoriously superstitious [where they fail over 7 out of 10 times], whereas fielders, typically successful over 90% of the time, have correspondingly fewer superstitions. And remember that this difference is expressed in the same players!” p 96

“In a 1985 study of ‘hot hands’ in basketball, researched analyzed every basket shot by the 76ers for an entire season and discovered that the probability of a player hitting a 2nd shot did not increase following an initial successful basket, beyond what one would expect by chance and the average shooting percentage of the player… The number of streaks [consecutive made shots] did not exceed the predictions of a statistical coin flip model. That is if you conduct a coin flipping experiment, you will shortly encounter streaks of head or tails… The exception is DiMaggion’s 56 game hitting streak, a feat so many standard deviations away from the mean that, in the words of the scientists ‘it should not have happened at all.’” P97

“Oxytocin is a horomone secreted into the blood by the pituitary during sex, particulary during orgasm, and plays a role in pair bonding, an evolutionary adaptation for long-term care of helpless infants. In women it stimulates contractions at birth, lactation, and mental bonding with the infant… Monogamous species secrete more oxytocin during sex than polygamous species.” P122

Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon documented this about the Yanomam of the Amazon:
“If you take men who are in the same age category and divide them by those that have killed other men and those have not killed, in every age category the killers had more offspring. In fact, killers averaged 4.91 children vs. 1.59 for non-killers. The reason is clear in the data on the number of wives: killers averaged 1.63 wives vs. .63 for non-killers… In our own culture, draft dodgers are considered a shame. Being a successful warrior has social rewards in all cultures. The Yanomamo warriors do not get medals and media. They get more wives.” P129

“In March 2001, Gallup reported results of their survey that found 45% of Americans agree with statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” 37% preferred a blended belief that ‘humans have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process’, and a paltry 12% accepted the standard scientific theory that ‘humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.’” P173

“If Intelligent Designer (ID) theory is really a science, as Iders claim it is, then the burden is on the them to discover the mechanisms used by the the Intelligent Designer.” P183

“We should also note that the world is not always to so ‘intelligently designed’, and that the human eye itself is a prime example. The configuration of the retina is in 3 layers, with the light sensitive rods and cones at the bottom facing away from the light, under the other 2 layers. [Additionally], all of these layers sit beneath a layer of blood vessels. For optimal vision, why would an ‘intelligent designer’ have built an eye backward and upside down? This design only makes sense if natural selection built eyes from whatever materials were available.” P185

“The human genome is littered with pseudogenes, gene fragments, ‘junk’ DNA, and so many repeated copies of pointless DNA that it cannot be attributed to anything that resembles intellingent design. If the DNA of a human (or any other creature) resembled a carefully constructed computer program, with neatly arranged and logically structured modules… In fact, the genome resembles nothing so much as a hodgepodge of borrowed, copied, mutated and discarded sequences that have been cobbled together by millions of years of trial and error against the relentless test of survival.” P194 Kenneth Miller

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