Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Existence, Uplift, and Science News

Amid the election, I'll alternate political posts with others about science, fiction and the future.  And so, for relief, let's have a miscellany of cool techie stuff!

 First: After an incredible decade, in which the number of planets known beyond our solar system increased from zero to several thousand, astronomers have detected an Earth-sized world orbiting between the two major stars nearest to our system, Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B. Much too hot to sustain life, it nevertheless will help in narrowing down the search space for others. ("News from Alpha Centauri." Cool to say that!)

In a related matter - I've posted an essay, Are we alone in the universe? about the the Fermi Paradox, the Drake Equation and all that where-are-the-aliens jazz on the web site of Orbit Books, in conjunction with the upcoming release in the U.K. of the trade paperback version of Existence...

...soon to be followed by Orbit's special new omnibus collections of my Uplift Series of novels. A gorgeous-big volume entitled UPLIFT will contain Sundiver, Startide Rising and The Uplift War.  Another omnibus compendium  --EXILES -- combines Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore and Heaven's Reach.  Soon to follow... beautiful reprints of Earth and The Postman.

== A Potpourri of Cool Science!!! ==

Researchers discover a beluga whale, named NOC -- whose vocalizations were remarkably close to human speech.  

To amplify the comparatively low-frequency parts of the vocalizations, a beluga named NOC over-inflates what is known at the vestibular sac in his blowhole - which normally acts to stop water entering the lungs. In short, the mimicry was no easy task.   So they ARE trying to meet us halfway, after all!

A recent study published in Trends in Genetics suggests that a person's genes may affect their later political thinking and views of the world almost as much as his circumstances or upbringing do, and far more than many social scientists have been willing, until recently, to admit. It seems that the degree to which you are politically knowledgeable is largely genetically determined, while your party affiliation is acquired from upbringing... though this then later diverges after adults leave the nest. And yes, researchers found a further 11 genes, different varieties of which might be responsible for inclining people - in general personality ways, not doctrine, of course - towards liberalism or conservatism.

Interesting to compare to other recent science showing differences in which parts of the brain are used to think about political matters.  And what this has to say about the fact that American scientists have voted with their feet, abandoning one of the parties en masse.

Want to see the reason distilled? Click to see the original of this little poem, which is sooooo redolent in this political season.

"SCIENCE:

If you don't make mistakes, you're doing it wrong.
If you don't correct those mistakes, you're doing it really wrong.
If you can't accept that you might be mistaken, you're not doing it at all."

== Ocean Acidification: deadly and undeniable ==

More than half of the six billion-plus metric tons of carbon released annually into the atmosphere is absorbed by the Ocean. Phytoplankton alone process an estimated 22 million tons of CO2 each day. This carbon sink does not come without consequence. In the last 100 years, our seas have become 30% more acidic, and that pace is accelerating. This increased acidity is impacting soft-shelled organisms such as crabs, shrimp, and oysters, many of which are unable to maintain their shells in this new, man-made acidic Ocean.

Now the crux. The ocean acidification trend lines come from entirely different sciences than those that study the greenhouse effect -- research establishments in twenty countries that have nothing to do with atmospheric studies.  And no Koch-supported "institute" has found anything wrong with them.

Unlike atmospheric studies, here's an area where your denialist uncle could take the samples and measure them, himself.  Two-thirds of our oxygen comes from the Ocean. But if rising acidity collapses the oceanic food chain, including phytoplankton, suffocation might be just one of many things we'll sue the denialists for.  And tell your uncle that includes him.  The refugees will need homes.  The denialists will share or lose theirs, by simple tort law. Time to adapt, out of simple self-interest.

== Open Source and hope ==

In a recent blog I described a vast array of ways that folks are empowered (or not) to engage in citizen science or open source development.  Now comes another aspect to that movement. Can the open source science movement extended lessons derived from its central core -- programming?  Software engineer and Linux pioneer Linus Torvalds saw a solution to this problem—“git,” a system that allows for collaborative development. This in turn inspired Preston-Werner and Hyett to create GitHub.com, a hosting site that allows multiple programmers to work on the same source code at the same time, with changes getting unique signatures.

I'll be keynoting a Qualcomm conference on Open Source on November first. Here's a site that explains some aspects , and that will link you to Clay Shirky's fascinating TED talk about the great hope ... how open source software might lead to "a new way to argue." (I portray this happening in EXISTENCE and also in a scholarly paper.)

== Space! ==

Don't get your hopes up just yet for a comet extravaganza. But do make plans to keep an eye on the sky in late 2013! Comet ISON will pass very close to the sun and may become the brightest in all our life-times.  Well, perhaps. Learn all about these cosmic visitors (the topic of my PhD thesis) in HEART OF THE COMET!

The Japanese IKAROS spacecraft is (at last) a full scale solar sail test mission, something NASA for some reason avoided doing for half a century. The test probe has already passed Venus. And now it's time to start using this naturally attractive (if slow) means of travel a lot more often in space.

Spiders from (on) Mars? With apologies to David Bowie... Are the mysterious black "spider" discolorations in some dune area of Mars from CO2 geysers?  Or some  even weirder explanation?

And speaking of the Red Planet: Craig Venter and Jonathan Rothberg are competing to put a DNA sequencing machine on Mars, each claiming that it is the best way to search for and confirm Marian life. "This will work only if the DNA on Mars is exactly the same in its fundamental structure as on Earth," says Steven Benner, president of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Florida. He says he's skeptical that will be the case: "It is very unlikely that Terran DNA is the only structure able to support Darwinian evolution."  Though I lean slightly toward Venter.  Some of the chemistry of DNA life has been shown to imply have the best combinations of stability and just the right breakability and attachment probabilities in the bonds.

== And more Sci Potpourri ==

A very nifty innovation called MosquitoDMZ offers a new kind of trap that lures females to lay their eggs in  a place where they cannot thrive.  A clever technique. Though I still like the laser zappers I predicted in EARTH!

Imagine a clock that will keep perfect time forever, even after the heat-death of the universe ... a "space-time crystal," a four-dimensional crystal that has periodic structure in time as well as space.   The concept of a crystal that has discrete order in time was proposed earlier this year by Frank Wilczek, the Nobel-prize winning physicist at MIT. ... And now other scientists claim they know how to made one.

How cool is this?  A singularity laser? "The idea is to create a black hole next to a white hole so that their event horizons are separated by just a few hundred micrometres and create a small cavity. Then they show that when light is fired into this cavity, it is reflected off the white hole horizon onto the black hole horizon, back to the white again and so on. Researchers show (theoretically, for the foreseeable future) that during each reflection, stimulated emission of Hawking radiation (from the stressed vacuum itself) effectively adds to the beam, thereby amplifying it.  They say this additive process is logarithmic so a small seed of light ends up producing an intense beam of radiation.

"Their real triumph, however, is in showing how such a device could be made in the lab. They point out that the refractive index of certain materials depends on the intensity of light inside them. So the light itself changes the refractive index. That means a very intense beam can create a huge gradient in the refractive index. This gradient can be so steep that it behaves like an event horizon. In fact, a single pulse can create black hole horizon at its leading edge and a white hole horizon at its trailing edge. They go on to say that it ought to be possible to do this in optical waveguides made of diamond."

Schades of Schadenfreude! This new game lets you play a virus or nanoplague and acquire new characteristics in search of the way to slay all life on Earth!

iO9 offers a pretty cool and logical and interesting appraisal of time travel fiction.  Very smart... if nowhere near complete.  I can think of five other scenarios...

Professor Sandy Pentland of MIT discusses Big Data and how the tsunami of information about you and me may be used by corporations and elites... and possibly in a way that's fair to common folk.  Or else become a tool for Big Brother.

Methods for performing encrypted communications using quantum-entangled "teleportation" are moving forward rapidly.  Recent experiments have achieved results over several kilometers.  Chinese teams are even planning soon to launch a satellite to test quantum-entangled communications back and forth to orbit and EUropean and Japanese groups are also in the race.  But not (apparently) the United States... for some strange bureaucratic reasons.

Meanwhile, there are advances in the field of quantum computing, with the latest endeavor featuring an alliance with Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos and the CIA's research group In-Q-Tel, to support the D-Wave company's latest quantum computer -- 512 super-chilled , superconduction niobium loops are arrayed in a layout of qubits that conforms to an algorithm that solves a particular kind of optimization problem at the core of many tasks difficult to solve on a conventional processor. It's like a specialized machine in a factory able to do one thing really well -- the range of "optimization" problems.

== Reproduction without any(!) sex at all? == 

Want baby mice? Grab a petri dish. After producing normal mouse pups last year using sperm derived from stem cells, a Kyoto University team of researchers has now accomplished the same feat using eggs created the same way.  In other words, stem cells can be turned into sperm and ova and viable offspring result.

I admit surprise. I truly thought that mammalian meiosis -- the division of (say) our human diploid 46 chromosome cells into subtly shuffled sets of haploid gametes (reproductive sperm or ova) with 23 choromosomes each) would turn out to be a complex process, requiring not only pluripotent stem cells and a triggering set of environmental cues, but the ongoing participation of a surrounding, complex organ, like the ovaries or testes, to take the cells through a multi-stage process.  In retrospect, I am not sure why I felt that to be likely.  Perhaps because the shuffling and separation and creation of the surrounding active cells seems fraught with potential for so many errors... by comparison, fertilization and creation of a blastocyst zygote and embryo seems simple!  Just a matter of cellular automata sorting themselves out through neighbor interactions.  But clearly, I was wrong. (I've been known to be! Remember that poem about science?) This just keeps getting stranger.

Questions? Are the offspring fully re-methylized... completely young?  Or do they inherit the donor's aged chromosomes, the way the cloned Dolly the Sheep did?  And does this mean the only remaining miracle is the womb?  That women can now well and truly do without males, by creating their own sperm?  Do NOT anger that woman researcher at the next lab bench, fellows.

== The latest from "are we in a simulation?" ==

I recall when "are we all living in a simulation?" was a really cool and surprising question!  Yes, I'm that old.  So old that my novelette "Stones of Significance" explores a few aspects of this topic for the first time, before they became cliches.  But time... or its simulated effects... moves on, and now there's serious thought to how physics itself might test whether this "existence" of ours is in the original universe or one of the mazillion simulated ones being run in super advanced computers in that "real realm."

(Or is it turtles (simulations) all the way down?)

Some first order reasons to imagine it is so?  Well, the simulators would have to save money or computational power somehow, by limiting the burdens of the simulation.  One way to limit the size of the space the inhabitants can experience directly (rather than just observe with telescopes) is to have an upper speed limit. Also a bottomost temperature.  And a limit to the degree that you can parse position and momentum... or energy and time... so that you cannot dive into the small to an infinite -- or fractal -- degree.

Now see a paper that suggests experiments that might actually observe the mathematical latticework within which we are being simulated.  Assuming that lattice of time and position is cubic, as are all our current cellular automata models, then that spacing should show up in high energy physics experiments. (Of course, the uber-modellers might use a different stacking of cells, to mess us up! Better check for hexagonal and other crystal structures, as well!)

== And finally... ==

Science is not immune to controversy, especially around the edges. (Indeed, scientists are among the most competitive humans that our species has ever produced.) With science itself under concerted and deliberate attack by one entire wing of U.S. political life - (and sneered at by a few far-extremists of the other wing) - it would be surprising not to see the issues fester and broil even at sites like discovermagazine.com. See this essay, in particular, discussing why author Robert Wright has taken a sudden veer, inviting "prominent creationists" to inveigh upon his "bloggingheads" show without proper counter-weight foils or challenge.  Yes, he also brings on prominent atheists. All should be challenged in the spirit of reciprocal accountability.

While I have long recommended Wright's book NONZERO as a good way to introduce folks to the concept underlying our enlightenment -- the positive sum game - I have grown increasingly worried by Wright's foray's down avenues that veer away from science, modernity or even history.  Well well. It's too soon to judge... and maybe it's just a different standard of looseness in style of disputation. Indeed, I would generally trust Wright over his accusers! Still, we live in an era when polemic too-often trumps reason. Your reportage on this is welcome.

And yes, there will be more social-political commentary soon.   So far, I have covered two major topic areas that ought to be significant (and overwhelming) for any U.S. citizen who claims to truly care about the future of America, the Western Enlightenment Experiment, and our species.  The Eight Reasons for Our Budget Deficit and the stark Difference Between the Ways that Democrats and Republicans Wage War. I don't expect to have much influence -- those who are persuadable by facts and evidence have long  ago taken sides, favoring the candidate who most often mentions the word "science."  Still, it's important.  And we all have uncles and aunts who just might listen.  Or read with a willingness to learn.

49 comments:

gwern said...

> Software engineer and Linux pioneer Linus Torvalds saw a solution to this problem—“git,” a system that allows for collaborative development. He created GitHub.com, a hosting site that allows multiple programmers to work on the same source code at the same time, with changes getting unique signatures.

Linus created Git but not GitHub.GitHub was founded by Tom Preston-Werner, Chris Wanstrath, & PJ Hyett.

Walt said...

Regarding Robert Wright, would you also lament his inviting atheist thinkers "without proper counter-weight foils or challenge?"

And I ask this as an atheist.

A second question: does a simulated universe fall into the creationist category?

David Brin said...

Thanks Gwern

Walt - , I would generally trust Wright over his accusers! Still, we live in an era when polemic too-often trumps reason. Your reportage on this is welcome.

jollyreaper said...

That whale pic is creepy as hell.

David Brin said...

Research help? Any articles out there citing the fraction of Romney Campaign folks who are Bush administration people?

Randy Winn said...

@David Brin 1:45 PM
Paul Richter in LA Times October 15, 2012 "Romney distances himself from Bush-era neoconservatives" says "Romney doesn't have a single dominating figure who oversees his foreign agenda, relying instead on a group of about 200 outside advisors, campaign staff and other experts. About two-thirds are veterans of the Bush administration." and names a few. Is that enough?

---

My take on the "If you don't..." poem:

"If you cannot imagine a single fact which, if proven, would cause you to change your political belief, then you don't have a political belief; you have a religion"

---
Romney supporters apparently used identity theft to send phoney "You're being purged" letters to thousands of Florida Democrats: http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/elections/president/FBI-joins-probe-of-bogus-Fla-vote-purge-letters_22649048. Since the state of Virginia refuses to arrest in the case of the destruction of voter registrations in Virginia, we may reasonably assume that if Republicans control the Justice Department, we will see no arrests im this case of mail fraud.

(No surprise: the GOP's candidate committed vote fraud in 2010. Why Mass AG didn't indict is a mystery to me; Dems lose a lot because they don't play hardball.)

---
@Tacitus - in a reply to the last post, you equated the dispute over Frankin v Coleman and that over Bush v Gore. I accept as a fact that the feelings may be very similar; however the level of factual support for the feelings is very different. There is no evidence that up to 200 felons voting in MN changed the outcome, nor that those votes were the result of a systematic effort by one political party. In addition, all ballots cast were carefully counted and recounted before the eyes of both parties, using existing law. OTOH there is plenty of evidence that Gore actually did get more votes in FL, that the Supreme Court substantially rewrote existing law (including the centuries old standard for issuing a stay) in order to stop the recount of the ballots; and that the election's outcome was the result of a systematic effort by one party to prevent members of the other party from voting, including fraudulent purging of tens of thousands of voters from the rolls. The feelings may be similar, but the quantity of facts backing up the feelings is not.

David Brin said...

Argh! Try teaching the "theory of revolution"

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2703#comic

funny and sad...

David Brin said...

This one doesn't apply here!

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2696#comic

Randy Winn said...

Pondering "are we all living in a simulation?"

If the Simulators didn't care whether anybeing noticed they were in a simulation, then the Grid Of Reality might be whatever's convenient for them, and perhaps therefore detectable. But if they *did* care, countermeasures should be straightforward. Whenever a being attains the technology to detect the grid, the simulators can either:
(A) increase the fineness of the grid below the level of detection (not much additional hardware needed; simply run the simulation slower), or
(B) mess up the detectors. One method would be to kill the species by carbon poisoning the atmosphere; this would explain mysterious behavior of electronic voting machines.

Perhaps Lovecraft was right ("ab luce ad tenebras"), or perhaps Edwards ( "We are Simmies in the hand of an angry god")

---

This amused, albeit under the political lamp: THE WAR NERD: OBAMA'S WARS >> Good Fighter, Can’t Cheerlead Worth A Damn

Jumper said...

I was not impressed with the cubic simulation. A 12-dimensional matrix will be necessary.

Or FCC close packed, etc., at minimum. They will never think outside the box with cubes.

Jumper said...

This is
http://www.damninteresting.com/nineteen-seventy-three/#more-4942

LarryHart said...

J. Maynard Gelinas,

On the last thread, you asked for suggestions on sci-fi reading. Since you already mentioned reading some Stephen King, you might want to try his recent time-travel story about the Kennedy assassination, called "11/22/1963".

It follows much of the King pattern you already noticed, pseudo sci-fi and compelling characters that inevitably goes the way of horror. But oh what suspense on the way!

sociotard said...

Speaking of Existence, I did enjoy it, but the very end bugged me, and I finally figured out why. It reminded me too much of A Merchant of Venice. For his unstated crimes Seeker is forced to be reborn, one might even say baptized, as a human.

*shudder*

Oh, and on the science miscellany front, any comment on the Lady Bathory Mouse? Just another case where 'those easy switches have all been thrown'?

Because, if not, this sounds like an awesome scifi novel in the works.

David Brin said...

Sociotard - har! Still it is a bit... a lot... of a reach. Seeker as Shylock. Hrmmmm. Anyway there's the little phrase "We agreed..."

David desJardins said...

The column about Bloggingheads is three years old, and discusses events years before that. Why are you bringing it up now?

I'm all for the value of peer review, but people can bring it up themselves to support their arguments, I don't think we need a gatekeeper function to keep any other kinds of arguments from being presented to the impressionable public. If the argument has merit, then I have faith in the argument, I don't need to stomp out any other kinds of arguments.

Tony Fisk said...

One gets the impression that the events between the last chapter of Existence and what has gone before would fill another novel or two.

I suspect our uber-tects are using Penrose tiling. It would explain the bizarre symmetries preferred by Lovecraft's Elder Races.

Unknown said...

David, regarding the "sudden veer" you say I've taken: Are you aware that the essay of Carl Zimmer's that you linked to is more than three years old? So far as I know we haven't had a creationist on Bloggingheads since then (though if we had I wouldn't feel a need to beg your forgiveness). As for your being "increasingly worried" that I'm veering away from "science, modernity, or even history"--I don't know what you're talking about, and I'm not sure you do either. But if you want to come on Bloggingheads and discuss it with me, I'd welcome that.
--Robert Wright

Tony Fisk said...

J. Maynard Gelinas, David's published lists of recommended sf reading before (with a few annotations by various others...)
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com.au/2011/11/science-fiction-for-young-adults.html
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/david-brins-list-of-greatest-science.html
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/how-to-define-science-fiction.html

Political TroubleMaker said...

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/10/think-the-florida-recount-was-bad-just-wait-until-november-6/263901/

QUOTE:

There were problems with electronic-voting irregularities before Florida, she contends, and cites as an example the 1996 Senate race in Nebraska, where Chuck Hagel won a surprisingly decisive victory over Ben Nelson. The polls were even days before the election, but Hagel won by 15 percent of the vote -- votes counted by a company Hagel had chaired until shortly before the election. The "surprising scale of his win," Collier writes, "awakened a new fear among voting-rights activists."

The intervening 16 years -- and electronic-voting irregularities in most of the five national elections since 2002 -- have done little to allay those fears. Nor did the Help America Vote Act. Collier writes that the law isn't ensuring voting accuracy or the reliability of election results but instead is "accelerating a deterioration of our electoral system that most Americans have yet to recognize, let alone understand."

[...]

Meanwhile, Collier reminds us, the "Election Assistance Commission" created by the law, the federal oversight office that was supposed to help ensure voting security, was so feckless that one of its chiefs, a Bush appointee, resigned in 2005, calling his office a "charade." That year, not incidentally, the Commission on Federal Election Reform, which was called a bipartisan effort, warned about the potential for great abuse from electronic-voting insiders, but reassured the American people that electronic voting was reliable so long as officials included a "voter-verifiable paper audit trail."

[...]

In other words, while Baker and Carter and company were focused on rules designed to stymie the efforts of a few illegal in-person voters, the wise men largely ignored the direct and obvious threat to millions of legitimate votes, the accurate and complete counting of which depends, then and now, on the good faith of unregulated companies and their employees, who operate with scarcely any government or public oversight.

UNQUOTE

almkglor said...

I would just like to further clarify:

> Software engineer and Linux pioneer Linus Torvalds saw a solution to this problem—“git,” a system that allows for collaborative development. This in turn inspired Preston-Werner and Hyett to create GitHub.com, a hosting site that allows multiple programmers to work on the same source code at the same time, with changes getting unique signatures.

git does the following:

1. Allows multiple programmers to work on the source code at the same time.

2. Changes done in parallel get unique signatuers (SHA1).

3. Documents a protocol by which git can communicate with remote repositories of code.

4. Is completely under he GPL, meaning it is Free as in Speech Software.

GitHub does the following:

1. Implements the git protocol

2. Provides free hosting for FOSS projects, and paid hosting for non-free projects

3. Provides a really nice web interface.

4. Does not actually release any of its own code under any FOSS license, which makes some FOSS programmers avoid it.

Paul451 said...

The Sun.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUL4JY15jSg

The only religion I've ever understood.

atomsmith said...

That beluga sounds like comedian Rob Brydon's Small Man Trapped in a Box routine

Whenever it comes to D-wave, be sure to check Prof. Aaronson's blog

Political TroubleMaker said...

http://www.ukprogressive.co.uk/breaking-retired-nsa-analyst-proves-gop-is-stealing-elections/article20598.html

Note that while this story references the Choquette, Johnson material linked before, it's a report of a different analysis by a different person.

QUOTE:

Retired NSA analyst Michael Duniho has worked for nearly seven years trying to understand voting anomalies in his home state of Arizona and Pima County. This publication has written extensively about apparent vote machine manipulation in a 2006 RTA Bond issue election that is still being fought in the courts. Said Duniho, “It is really easy to cheat using computers to count votes, because you can’t see what is going on in the machine.”

When Duniho applied a mathematical model to actual voting results in the largest voting precincts, he saw that only the large precincts suddenly trended towards Mitt Romney in the Arizona primary – and indeed all Republicans in every election since 2008 – by a factor of 8%-10%. The Republican candidate in every race saw an 8-10%. gain in his totals whilst the Democrat lost 8-10%. This is a swing of up to 20 point, enough to win an election unless a candidate was losing very badly.

Since sifting through and decoding massive amounts of data was his work for decades on behalf of the National Security Agency, he wanted to understand why this was ONLY happening in large precincts.

[...]

This isn’t the first time Republicans have been charged with vote theft. It happened in the 2004 presidential election, in Ohio and Florida.

In Ohio, GOP consultant Michael Connell claimed that the vote count computer program he had created for the state had a trap door that shifted Democratic votes to the GOP.

He was subpoenaed as a witness in a lawsuit against then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, and lawyers for the plaintiff asked the Dept. of Justice to provide him with security because there were two threats made against Connell’s life by people associated with Karl Rove. But in Dec. 2008, before the trial began, Connell was killed in a plane crash outside Akron Ohio.

There were problems in Florida, as well.

A study by the Quantitative Methods Research Team at the University of California at Berkeley found that anomalies between Florida counties using touch-screen voting and those using other methods could not be explained statistically. Noting the higher-than-expected votes for Bush in three large Democratic counties, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, Michael Hout, a Berkeley professor who did the study said there were strong suspicions of vote-rigging.

“No matter how many factors and variables we took into consideration, the significant correlation in the votes for President Bush and electronic voting cannot be explained,” Hout said. “The study shows that a county’s use of electronic voting resulted in a disproportionate increase in votes for President Bush. There is just a trivial probability of evidence like this appearing in a population where the true difference is zero—less than once in a thousand chances.”

Naum said...

On Git and GitHub…

…Torvalds Git was not one of a new genre -- there were previous F/OSS source control applications (most notably subversion). Yes, Git (at least in the appraisal of most, some still to cling to alternative SCM tools), was an improvement in many ways.

And GitHub, as praiseworthy as it is, just took the reins from older, more rugged collaborative sites like SourceForge and Google Code.

J. Maynard Gelinas said...

David,

In your previous blog post you quoted Steven Pinker in asserting that violence has been on a downward trend over the last several hundred years. I'm curious what you think about this response to that claim:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/24/what_sex_means_for_world_peace?wpisrc=obnetwork

Valerie Hudson, writing for Foreign Policy Magazine, argues that violence in general is not a good indicator of state stability. Instead, she claims that violence against women is better.

Using the largest extant database on the status of women in the world today, which I created with three colleagues, we found that there is a strong and highly significant link between state security and women's security. In fact, the very best predictor of a state's peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state's peacefulness is how well its women are treated. What's more, democracies with higher levels of violence against women are as insecure and unstable as nondemocracies.

Our findings, detailed in our new book out this month, Sex and World Peace, echo those of other scholars, who have found that the larger the gender gap between the treatment of men and women in a society, the more likely a country is to be involved in intra- and interstate conflict, to be the first to resort to force in such conflicts, and to resort to higher levels of violence. On issues of national health, economic growth, corruption, and social welfare, the best predictors are also those that reflect the situation of women. What happens to women affects the security, stability, prosperity, bellicosity, corruption, health, regime type, and (yes) the power of the state. The days when one could claim that the situation of women had nothing to do with matters of national or international security are, frankly, over. The empirical results to the contrary are just too numerous and too robust to ignore.


[...]

It's ironic that authors such as Steven Pinker who claim that the world is becoming much more peaceful have not recognized that violence against women in many countries is, if anything, becoming more prevalent, not less so, and dwarfs the violence produced through war and armed conflict. To say a country is at peace when its women are subject to femicide -- or to ignore violence against women while claiming, as Pinker does, that the world is now more secure -- is simply oxymoronic.

Gender-based violence is unfortunately ingrained in many cultures, so much so that it can take place not only during a woman's life but also before she is even born. On our scale measuring son preference and sex ratio, the world average is 2.41, indicating a generalized preference for sons over daughters globally. And in 18 countries, from Armenia to Vietnam, childhood sex ratios are significantly abnormal in favor of boys. The United Nations Population Fund suggests that, as of 2005, more than 163 million women were missing from Asia's population, whether through sex-selective abortion, infanticide, or other means. Demographer Dudley Poston of Texas A&M University has calculated that China will face a deficit of more than 50 million young adult women by the end of the decade. Think of the ways this imbalance will affect China's state stability and security -- and in turn its rise to world power -- in this century.

duncan cairncross said...

People like Valerie Hudson seem to show a total lack of historical knowledge.
Yes - bad things are happening now
But they don't seem to understand that much worse things happened before
Try looking up suttee or finding about the “Golden Lotus”


Ian said...

Hudson claims that violence against women is getting wotse. Apart from a single unsubstantiated remark about the assumed impact of the Arab Spring, she offers no evidence to support this claim.

It's like if I were to rattle off a bunch of statistics about various causes of death and then assert hat life expectancy was declining.

sociotard said...

I actually had a history teacher who argued that male-heavy societies would tend to have less domestic violence than others, because males would have to compete more for mates. Assuming females have some choice in the matter (and that may be a poor assumption), females would choose males who beat them less.

David Brin said...



JMG thanks for the link to the article about violence and women. It makes two very important points and one reflex-obnoxious assertion that is both unsupported and pathetic in its predictability.

1) That how women are treated can be viewed as a primary litmus of social health and progress and a society's general strength and stability. Sure. There are so many needles pointing in that direction that it can be classified as "obvious" though I have no doubt the author can add to the pile of proof.

2) That declines in overall violence can displace violence toward women and that this realm merits special, assertive and major attention from enlightened peoples, even some degree of assertive (aggressive) pro-action against meme centers that promote violence against women. Less a fact than a declaration of militant need. And I am all aboard!

3) That violence against women has increased in recent years, compared to the last 60 centuries. Bullshit. Prove it. (She does not.) This is just more lefty-reflex at work, a desperate (and not-sane) need to deny the existence of past progress, out of a misguided sense that such an admission would decrease the militant determination to achieve more.

I have said before, in many places, this is the core residual insanity of the left. It has no bearing on helping to achieve their goals. Rather, it is illogical and psychologically redolent foolishness. And in this case, it flies in the face of what we know about life for women in most past societies

You will sell true points 1 & 2 better without slapping on the blatant stupidity of the unnecessary #3. We can admit that progress has been made... Dr. Hudson is a living example of that progress... and not have our determination lessened. Indeed, the palpable fact of progress encourages the rational reformer to believe that we can achieve more.

Jumper said...

Allow me to state an unproven truism: men out of work beat their women.

David Brin said...

I haven't punched a time card or had a wage employer for decades. And my wife don't get beat. Well... ONCE I beat her at Boggle! But she whips me bad all the other times we play.

Jumper said...

I too am innocent of unemployment sadism. I employ every trick known in Boggle however. More wine?

Ian said...

I see a similar argument to hudson's all the tiem in relation to indigenous Australians.

Indigenous Australians suffer huge economic and social disadvantage relative to the rest of society on virtually any scale you want to pick: alcoholism, unemployment, suicide, children in state custody.

However, things used to be even worse on essentially all those scales.

Denying that denigrates the achivements of generatons of indigenous Australians.

It also opens the way to the argument that government assistance to indigenosu Australians has failed and should therefore be reduced or abolished.

TheMadLibrarian said...

I'm not sure that violence against women has increased. What we may be seeing is less tolerance for the type of violent behavior that previously skated by under the radar. That, and hopefully an increased willingness to call it out when we see it.

TheMadLibrarian
gonarye 55: New sexual dysfunction drug

Jonathan S. said...

I think you've pretty much nailed it, Librarian. It's been a while since I've heard anyone say a rape victim was "asking for it"; for that matter, I remember when spousal rape wasn't even a thing, and people would widely excuse spousal battering and child abuse.

(Of course, the other side of that coin is that today many legitimate methods of disciplining a child are called "abuse" - I've even heard someone describe grounding as "child abuse"...)

sociotard said...

It's been a while since I've heard anyone say a rape victim was "asking for it";

Your day. Let me ruin it.

By a judge to a sexual assault victim: "If you wouldn't have been [in a bar] that night, none of this would have happened to you."

The really weird thing is that it was a lady judge.

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/07/13732488-sex-assault-victim-groped-by-off-duty-cop-wants-apology-from-arizona-judge?lite

sociotard said...

Seriously, though, politicians lately seem to be stepping in this issue more and more, and it doesn't sound any less ugly, and many of their statements wouldn't have been any better tolerated 100 years ago.

I mean, "Some women rape easy"? Really? Of our leaders said that?

Paul451 said...

Jonathan S. said...

"It's been a while since I've heard anyone say a rape victim was "asking for it" "

It's important now to use code phrases that the intended audience understands. Such as "legitimate rape".

But to paraphrase David's (and MadLib's) point, forcing the enemy to use coded phrases means you've made progress. Progress is good. Celebrate for a moment, then fight on.

jollyreaper said...

The one thing I will say is being an active participant in your own safety is a good thing and not doing so can leave you vulnerable. Knew a guy in high school who was trying to be the big man, had his entire summer's wages as a fat roll of cash in his pocket. Went to the bad neighborhood to buy weed and got his ass beaten, money stolen. Was it a crime? Yup. But he was flashing that money and leaving himself vulnerable as hell. May as well have worn a t-shirt that said "rob me."

Now having said that, I will agree that there are people who really are blaming the victim, it's as if the criminal shares no culpability. It's as if she enticed the rape and the man was powerless to stop himself, like sittin the Christmas goose in front of the dog and expecting him not to eat it. Seriously? There was a catholic scholar a month ago forced into retirement after he said that little boys were seducing priests and the old men were the real victims. Ugh.

Anyway, I do say don't leave yourself vulnerable. Just because you have the right to safety doesn't mean others won't jeopardize it.

Ian said...

Thinking about the influence of money on American politics - especially in Presdiential elections - it occurs to me that to some extent people may be approaching this from the wrong end.

Yes, the donation of money to buy influence is an obvious problem.

But are we at apoint where there's effectively an election industry? Call it the election-media complex.

The TV networks will get an advertising windfall from the elections probably in the hundreds of millions of dollars - if not billions. With both the ongoing weak recovery and the secular decline in advertising other than on the internet, some outlets may be profitable only because of the premium paid by the campaigns.

Then we have the polling companies, the voter registration driver organizers; the "strategic consultants" and so on.

Even volunteer campaign offices need funds for rent and phones - and the people who run those offices, even if they don't draw a wage, get credit and recognition if they run a large, successful operation. That in turn can lead on paid positions or even political office.

Just as there's an enormous push of money into politcs, there are great many people and institutions exerting a pull. There are powerful institutions (like the networks)on the recipient side with every bit as much to gain from the continuation of the current system as the donors.

Tony Fisk said...

"It's been a while since I've heard anyone say a rape victim was "asking for it"

Hear about the senator opine that raped women don't get pregnant because their bodies have ways of dealing with unwanted advances? (implication being that raped woman who fell pregnant were actually OK with it) Interesting medical hypothesis. Horrible social statement.

Tim H. said...

Ian, you've nailed it, media is one of the "bridge trolls" blocking electoral reform. If that situation could be remedied, it'd be a bit more feasible to fix some other situations.

Tacitus2 said...

Wise people don't go into specifics regards rape. An expression of sympathy for the victims thereof and of respect for the citizens who sit on juries and have to sort it out is sufficient.

Unwise people wade right in, and this is a crime with ambiguities. Consent given, capable of being given, given and then a change of heart.....not going there.

I have no objection to weeding out unwise politicians, and rather suspect that every repub running for dogcatcher on up has been asked about this topic. Maybe dems also.

Whoopie Goldberg and her "Rape-rape" nonsense, I guess we are stuck with her.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Hear about the senator opine that raped women don't get pregnant because their bodies have ways of dealing with unwanted advances? (implication being that raped woman who fell pregnant were actually OK with it) Interesting medical hypothesis. Horrible social statement.


The "female body has ways of shutting down" comment was the most nefarious part of Akin's statement in my view, and was mostly ignored in favor of the tempest over his use of a politically-incorrect term ("legitimate rape").

The statement was reveletory of basic assumptions underlying the right-wing position, which is that rape is not really a serious offense because if it is really rape, then by definition it can't result in pregnancy. It reduces the offense of rape to the level of something like "copping a feel"--a nuisance rather than a life-changing assault.

The contrapositive, of course, is "If she got pregnant, then it wasn't rape." So a forcibly-impregnated woman becomes a co-consiprator in the crime.

Jumper said...

http://www.ukprogressive.co.uk/breaking-retired-nsa-analyst-proves-gop-is-stealing-elections/article20598.html

This link did not work for a couple of days but does now; for me, anyway.

TheMadLibrarian said...

The sad thing is that these people are running for public office where they will have the opportunity to (in some instances) create policy. They are flaunting their willful ignorance of simple science out in front of the voting populus. There are people who are not only willing to overlook the dumb, but will vote for them because they are in sympathy with their view!

TheMadLibrarian
6 onmecha: A generation of giant robot

Paul451 said...

Coincidentally, Altnet provides a simple guide to Republican rape:

http://www.alternet.org/files/bbb_0.gif

David Brin said...

onward... to the galaxy

GeneD5 said...

Another Uplift candidate: http://www.boston.com/news/world/asia/2012/11/02/elephant-south-korean-zoo-imitates-human-speech/QLUBeiN6334ZcdB5mGqRiM/story.html