Mailvox: defining science

BR emails to inform us that the definitions of the various elements of science in TIA have proven useful:

Vox, the definitions of science that you developed in TIA have been very useful. I recently described climategate to some friends like this: Fraudulent Scientistry was finally tripped up by established Scientage. Scientody takes a bow, and Science itself is none the worse for it. The discussion that followed was priceless.

Of course, I can’t take any credit for the development of the tripartite science definition. That was the Fowl Atheist’s work. I merely provided the nomenclature and publicized the concept, a Dawkins to his Darwin, if you will.

Creating a literary ghetto

To everyone’s surprise, Julianna Baggott blames sexism for the fact that women seldom write great or award-winning books:

I could understand Publishers Weekly’s phallocratic list if women were writing only a third of the books published or if women didn’t float the industry as book buyers or if the list were an anomaly. In fact, Publishers Weekly is in sync with Pulitzer Prize statistics. In the past 30 years, only 11 prizes have gone to women. Amazon recently announced its 100 best books of 2009 — in the top 10, there are two women. Top 20? Four….

What are the stereotypes that drive these biases? Over the years, I’ve developed many theories. Let me offer one here.

I often hear people exclaiming that they’re astonished that a particular book was written by a man. They seem stunned by the notion that a man could write with emotional intelligence and honesty about our human frailties. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be experts on emotion. I’ve never heard anyone remark that they were surprised that a book of psychological depth was written by a woman.

That last sentence summarizes the writer’s problem; psychological depth != literary greatness. That being said, one wonders who she would propose as the female equivalent of Dostoevsky, or even Poe. Now, it’s worth pointing out that female writers often win awards in SF/F, but that’s partly because there are some very good authoresses such as Lois McMaster Bujold, Theresa Edgerton, and Tanith Lee active in the genre, and partly because the SFWA’s Nebula Award has a propensity to devolve into a popularity contest, (see Catharine Asaro, 2001). But I suspect the main reason women write fewer great books is because they simply don’t make the effort to do so.

There’s nothing wrong with rewriting Tom Brown in a fantasy setting, but greatness does not lie that way even if massive sales success does. There’s nothing wrong with writing silly vampire pre-porn for silly teenage girls either – although it would be illegal on aesthetic grounds and punishable by death by sugar overdose if I were ruling the universe – but it’s readily apparent that literary greatness is not on your list of objectives if you’re writing about sexy dead and/or furry things.

The problem isn’t that women don’t write “write with emotional intelligence and honesty about our human frailties”, it is that they don’t tend to write about much else. While there are an increasing number of 40-something male writers who are making a career of doing this sort of narcissistic writing – Dave Eggers and stunt writer A.J. Jacobs spring to mind – the fact is that great literature requires more than navel-gazing, sexual daydreaming and gossip, no matter how well written that navel-gazing, daydreaming and gossip might be.

In any event, the only award that truly matters is the one that time conveys upon an author. No amount of awards or sales are going to turn Harry Potter and the Banquet of Boredom, The Picasso Crossword into works of literary greatness. If you try to accomplish something original, you will probably fail to reach the heights, but if you don’t even try then you definitely will. Summa Elvetica probably hasn’t sold one-tenth as many copies as the worst-selling novel published by Tor last year; it didn’t win a single award or even receive a single review in any literary publication. Given the limitations of the author, it may not even be as good a novel as any of those published by Tor. On the other hand, can anyone argue with a straight face that any of those books attempted to do even half of what was accomplished, let alone attempted, in SE?

Now, note that I’m not complaining in the slightest. As evidence, I will point out that one can’t give a book a title like “A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy” without knowing that practically no one is going to want to read it, to say nothing of throwing in all the untranslated Latin. I could not possibly care less what a literary world of readers who consider Dan Brown to have produced the best of the year’s best happens to think. I am simply observing the industry realities, not arguing that anything should be changed in order to accomodate my idiosyncratic preferences. The industry has already changed enough over the last three decades, as its increasing bias towards various elements preferred by female editors and readers continues to drive young men away from books and towards computer games that still respect the heroic tropes.

Baggott’s article indicates that we should expect to see the same pattern at work in literary awards that we are presently seeing in the awarding of university degrees. Female writers will eventually get their statistical due and make up the majority of literary award winners in time, but no one outside what will have then become a female-dominated literary ghetto will give a damn because the substantive value of the awards will have been destroyed by the very process of the desired transformation. As I predicted back in 1995 (this 2007 Ben Bella piece was simply a reworking of a proposed article for CGW that editor Chris Lombardi described as the most insane piece he’d ever read for the magazine), the next great art will not come from academia, Hollywood, or literature, but from the game industry. Imagine, for example, if Rob Pardo had been a genuine intellectual in the Tolkein mode and harbored ambitions of doing more than Warhammer Fantasy Battle meets Everquest.

I still like fantasy. I still write fantasy. In fact, SE fans may be pleased to learn that I’m presently working on a map for the next book. But I read very little of it these days because so much of it is derivative, predictable, trivial, and boring. There is more astonishment and daring in a single Call of Duty mission – and every MW2 player knows to which mission I’m referring – than there is in any twenty SF/F books published today.

Red flag waving

Given how Congress is already working to preemptively protect the big banks, it sure looks as something large and furry this way comes:

To close out 2009, I decided to do something I bet no member of Congress has done — actually read from cover to cover one of the pieces of sweeping legislation bouncing around Capitol Hill. Hunkering down by the fire, I snuggled up with H.R. 4173, the financial-reform legislation passed earlier this month by the House of Representatives. The Senate has yet to pass its own reform plan….

It authorizes Federal Reserve banks to provide as much as $4 trillion in emergency funding the next time Wall Street crashes. So much for “no-more-bailouts” talk. That is more than twice what the Fed pumped into markets this time around. The size of the fund makes the bribes in the Senate’s health-care bill look minuscule.

It would appear Barney Frank and the House Financial Services Committee are expecting Wave 3 in 2010 too.

Dinosaur science

The OC suggests a new theory that explains the disappearance of the dinosaurs. “I wonder how all those dinosaurs managed to get to Titan in order to die and leave those vast oceans of volatile liquid hydrocarbons?” But the answer is so obvious. Rockets. It’s dinosaur science and the global consensus of astrosaurinauticists is totally settled.

The bracing -180°C temperatures prevalent on Titan mean that water ice acts more the way rock does here on Earth, and the liquids filling the seas and lakes are hydrocarbons which would be gaseous here – methane, ethane and such – though of course we humans like to liquefy and store them under pressure to run our barbecues, patio heaters etc. Just as water does here, however, the patio-gas seas evaporate when conditions are favourable to form clouds and fog, which subsequently rain down as LPG elsewhere. Earth and Titan are thus the only bodies in the solar system with surface geology moulded by movements of liquid.

And clearly, Earth and Titan are the only bodies in the solar system to have been colonized by spacefaring dinosaurs; the Sea of Krakens must have been their sacred burial ground. But this discovery of dinosaur space travel is even more significant than the OC imagines, since it could have incredible ramifications for biology as well… my hypothesis is that Man was not only bred, but uplifted by these spacefaring dinosaurs as well, hence the sudden increase in cranial size that paleontologists find so puzzling. Because artificial selection is known to be so much faster than natural selection, the Dinosaur Science hypothesis offers the perfect solution for Young Earth Creationists, Evolutionists, UFOlogists and Pan-Spermians alike. As for the Chicxulub and Barringer sites, it is now apparent that those were the dinosaur equivalents of Cape Canaveral and Volograd.

And now we have finally have the answer to the nature of God. Saurian.

Now I’m just wondering if the Nobel Committee is going to have to hold off another year on awarding me the Physics prize for the discovery of Dark Vapor, since obviously establishing such a ground-breaking scientific theory of this multidisciplinary significance will have to take precedence.

Beautiful dessication

Given his penchant for discord and experimentation, I never, ever thought David Sylvian would again approach the music of Gone To Earth or the lyrics of Secrets of the Beehive. Rain Tree Crow was good, but it wasn’t the same. And yet, he somehow managed to combine elements of my two favorite albums in Atom and Cell on Snow Borne Sorrow.

Her skin was darker than ashes
And she had something to say
About being naked to the elements
At the end of yet another day
And the rain on her back that continued to fall
From the bruise of her lips
Swollen, fragile, and small

And the bills that you paid with were worth nothing at all
A lost foreign currency
Multi-coloured, barely reputable
Like the grasses that blew in the warm summer breeze
Well she offered you this to do as you pleased

And where is the poetry?
Didn’t she promise us poetry?

It’s simultaneously beautiful and harsh. I appreciate a reasonably wide range of music, but I don’t know that I really require anything these days but David Sylvian and Disturbed… and I’d do without Disturbed before Sylvian. The Banality of Evil is nearly as good, although it’s more sinister and smoothly superficial. I love the way he delivers the ominous-sounding “hello neighbor” line.

And the lives that you hold in the palm of your hand
You toss them aside small and damn near unbreakable
You drank all the water and you pissed yourself dry
Then you fell to your knees and proceeded to cry

And who could feel sorry for a drunkard like this
In a democracy of dunces with a parasite’s kiss?

And where are the stars?
Didn’t she promise us stars?

Godless and clueless

This science-related news is precisely why I find the constant atheist whining about nonexistent religious threats to science to be not only spurious, but downright nonsensical:

Berkeley High School is considering a controversial proposal to eliminate science labs and the five science teachers who teach them to free up more resources to help struggling students. The proposal to put the science-lab cuts on the table was approved recently by Berkeley High’s School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students who oversee a plan to change the structure of the high school to address Berkeley’s dismal racial achievement gap, where white students are doing far better than the state average while black and Latino students are doing worse.

The average atheist who considers himself to be a strong supporter of science is far more worried about warning stickers on evolution textbooks than he is about the elimination of all science labs and the science teachers who teach them at a major high school. I’ll be surprised if this news gets one-tenth the attention on Scienceblogs that the average evolution-related kerfluffle at a school board does. You may recall that the usual suspects weren’t the least bit concerned about the coming application of Title IX quotas to science either.

It’s apparent that it’s not so much science that the godless self-proclaimed devotees of “science” and “reason” support, but rather scienthology. And being ideologically unsophisticated, they can’t even imagine a threat to science coming from the Left because they wrongly believe science to be inherently progressive. This also demonstrates that their devotion to reason is as tenuous as their supposed dedication to science.

VPFL 2009 Championship

73 Alamo City Spartans
54 Judean Front

Congratulations to Clay, whose Alamo City Spartans continued the VPFL tradition of upsetting the regular season champions and claimed the 4th VPFL title.

As for the NFL, I do not understand the coaching decisions on the part of Caldwell and Childress. I thought the decision of the Colts to stupidly throw away their opportunity to go 16-0 was totally ridiculous and will contribute to their being upset in the playoffs. The Vikings are suffering from overly conservative play calling, a mysterious offensive line meltdown, and defensive injuries to Pat Williams, EJ Henderson, and Antoine Winfield; our star cornerback is clearly still a little off his game after returning from his six-week injury. They could certainly use that bye week, but it looks as if they probably threw that away too.

I’m not sure which was dumber, the predictable first-half playcalling – I called one third-down play-action rollout that the Bears defensive coordinator obviously expected as well – or Ben Leber’s continuous inability to understand the concept of containment. AD’s overtime fumble and Longwell’s blocked PAT both hurt, but neither would have mattered if Leber hadn’t made exactly the same mistake he made last week against Carolina and simply held his position to the ballcarrier’s left instead of attempting to dive in wildly and make the tackle before his four teammates who had the running back pinned to the front and right did. The result was that instead of a loss of two followed by a fourth-down punt, Leber gave Forte a first down that led directly to a field goal. But the worst decision was the one to kick the tying PAT with 20 seconds left instead of going for two. The Viking special teams had been terrible all night, the Bear defense was reeling, and it was a perfect time to put them away. It was a horrendous call by Childress and it reminded me of an equally bad decision by Denny Green to play for overtime against a heavily favored Dallas team. In both cases, the overtime result was the same. The Vikings lost.

Right now, Philadelphia and San Diego look like the teams of destiny. Of course, this probably means that they are the only two playoff teams we can be certain we will not see in the Super Bowl.

Mailvox: failed bank projections

LP asks a very good question about my five percent failed deposit figure:

I thought your book on the return of the great depression was great. But since the 545 banks in trouble represent 295 billion of assets (ratio of about 55-to-60%), compared to 140 failed banks with 139 billion of assets this year (ratio of about 1/1), would it not follow that the 545 banks have less assets and that the subsequent resultant asset loss would be less than your graph projections show? This I interpret to mean that 5% of the bank failures shown on the graph would represent closer to 3% of the 2010 asset value. This may mean that the 16.8 decline in commercial banks loans would drop closer to about 10%.

Also some of the stronger businesses may be able to transfer barrowing to other banks which may mitigate the credit affect. This may let the govt get away with one or two more stimulus packages in 2010 that would result in a worsening economy than we have now and preserve the total economic catastrophe until 2011. Or a different scenario, maybe the continued economic slump will snowball in 2010 as everyone will continue to curtail their spending when the last half of 2010 shows unemployment still rising with business activity declining. Is my basic reasoning correct?
</blockquote
LP’s basic reasoning is correct. However, his conclusions are not because he has taken insufficient historical data into account. I considered four different metrics; one of them was LP’s suggested one of deposits based on assets of banks currently named on the problem list. As LP mentioned, here at the end of 2009 there are 545 banks with $295 billion in assets on the problem bank list. Since deposits average 80 percent of assets and 56 percent of problem banks failed in 2009, (140 of 252), this would appear to indicate a probable 305 bank failures in 2010 averaging deposits of $433.9 million. Therefore, total failed deposits would be $132.3 billion representing about 1.75% of total deposits, an improvement on 2009’s 1.84%.

However, the following historical numbers belie this reasoning.

2007 problem banks 76
2007 problem assets $22 billion
2007 average assets $289.5 million
2008 failed banks 25 (33%)
2008 failed assets $371.9 billion (51x LP’s metric)
2008 average assets $14.9 billion

2008 problem banks 252
2008 problem assets $116 billion
2008 average assets $460.3 million
2009 failed banks 140 (56%)
2009 failed assets $173.6 billion (2.7x LP’s metric)
2009 average assets $1,229 billion

2009 problem banks 545
2009 problem assets $295.6 billion
2009 average assets $542.4 million

The key datapoint that LP did not take into account is that not all failed banks appear on the problem bank list and the failed banks which don’t appear on it tend to be the larger ones. For example, the giant Washington Mutual failure badly skewed the 2008 results. This is why I expect the metric I chose, which simply applied average 2009 failed deposits of $983 million per bank to the rumored 400 bank failures, will be closer to the actual result. However, my projections were 24 percent south of the mark in 2009, (1.4% vs 1.84%), so I wouldn’t be shocked if there were more than 305 banks seized in 2010 or if the deposits represented by 2010’s failed banks turn out to be more than 5.2% of total deposits.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this all assumes flat total deposits of 7,566,800,000. If total deposits are rising due to an increased propensity to save on the part of households or falling due to people turning to alternative savings measures and removing their cash from the banking system, this will have a definite effect on the failed deposit rate. For example, had total deposits remained flat at $50.7 million from 1930 to 1933 instead of falling to $31.9 million, the horrific 8.6% failure rate would have been 5.4%. So, sizeable changes in that variable could significantly throw off any calculations.

But regardless, the FDIC’s hiring 25 percent more workers, the rising number of home defaults, and the continued collapse of the corporate real estate market all tend to suggest that any surprises in the number of bank failures and failed bank deposits will be to the upside.

For the record

“There is no eternal standard of right and wrong.”
– PZ Myers

I thought that was a quotation worth noting. Read the whole thing so you can appreciate the context; it is an object lesson in why biologists teaching community college students would do well to avoid attempting both logic and philosophy. Of course, the Fowl Atheist’s stated belief in the absence of any eternal standard of right and wrong and his implied belief in the absence of any objective standard of right and wrong doesn’t prevent him from constantly labeling various actions and individuals as being either right or wrong. I don’t think PZ is demonstrating hypocrisy here, however, so much as simple incoherence. One has to be aware of one’s inconsistency before one attempt to maintain a pretense, after all.

It is both hilarious and deeply ironic that someone whose ability to reason correctly is so demonstrably nonexistent should nevertheless see fit to declare: “We should build our morality on reason.” The thought is neither original nor tenable.

WND column

2010: The Year Ahead

While the Great Depression is considered to have begun with the great stock market crash of 1929, the first mention of the words “great depression” was in a speech given by Herbert Hoover in late 1931. The first specific and titular reference did not occur until 1934, when British economist Lionel Robbins published a book titled “The Great Depression.” This would neither be the first nor the last time economists influenced by the Austrian School would be the first to identify a major economic downturn in the making or to point out that the policies of the fiscal and monetary authorities were guaranteed to exacerbate it.

What then, are the prospects of enduring recovery? It is clear that they are not bright. It is quite probable, if there is no immediate outbreak of war on a large scale, that the next few months may see a substantial revival of business. If the exchanges are stabilised and the competition in depreciation ceases, there is a strong probability that the upward movement, which began in the summer of 1932, will continue. If the stabilisation were made permanent and some progress were made with the removal of the grosser obstacles to trade, it is not out of the question that a boom would develop. There are many things which might upset this development. The basis of recovery in the United States is gravely jeopardised by the policy of the Government.
– Lionel Robbins, “The Great Depression,” Page 195

UPDATE I – In the column, I neglected to specifically point out that if the present situation follows the historical precedent, public figures should first begin to recognize the existence of the Great Depression 2.0 two years after it began. This would indicate the fourth quarter of 2010.

UPDATE II – We are amused. Yesterday, I wrote this: “While some of the wiser economists are hedging their bets by stating that they expect growth to be “sluggish” with “downside risks,” there are no more expectations of market crashes, financial collapse or widespread economic contraction than there were at the beginning of 2008.” At the same time, Paul Krugman was anticipating his need to engage in the customary CYA of the mainstream economist: “Yeah, its a reasonably high chance [of economic contraction in the second half of 2010] – it’s less than 50/50 odds – but we have now a recovery that … is being driven by fiscal stimulus which is going to fade out in the 2nd half of next year….”

Reasonably high. Less than 50/50. Remember, that’s the finest that mainstream economics has to offer. Now, I don’t believe in feigning accuracy by assigning meaningless numbers that hint at nonexistent probability calculations, so I will simply say that 100 > 50/50. So speak up now, every doubter, anklebiter, and would-be critic. How many of you dare to publicly declare that all the mainstream economists are correct about the prospects for continued “economic recovery” in 2010 and that I am therefore wrong? Is anyone actually willing to go on the record and state that my rejection of the expert consensus is incorrect or not?

I’ll even provide some hard metrics and predict that by the end of 2010:

1. The BLS will report U-3 unemployment to be in excess of 11 percent. The actual number of unemployed workers will be much higher.
2. The BEA will report at least one quarter of negative GDP growth. The GDP figures for Q309 and Q409 will be revised downward. Again.
3. The Federal budget deficit for 2010 will exceed the projected $1.17 trillion.
4. More than 200 banks will be seized by the FDIC. Their deposits will represent more than two percent of all U.S. bank deposits.
5. Commercial bank loans and leases (TOTLL) will fall below $6.3 trillion.
6. All sectors credit market instruments excluding corporate equities and mutual fund shares liability, which is published in the Fed’s quarterly Z1 Flow of Funds Accounts, will fall below $52 trillion.
7. The national median existing-home price will not rise four percent from $172,600 to $179,500 as predicted by NAR’s lead economist Lawrence Yun. It will fall instead to a level I will attempt to estimate before the next NAR release.

These seven specific predictions are all directly contrary to what almost all mainstream economists are presently predicting for 2010; I am presently compiling a selection of economic predictions from all the usual suspects for future comparison.