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Reality vs. Republicans

May 26, 2016

A new PPP poll (pdf) shows that Republicans believe that the stock market has fallen under Obama, while the unemployment rate has gone up. Steve Benen states the obvious:

Whether or not the unemployment rate has improved is not a matter of opinion. No matter how one sees the world, the Obama era started with 7.8% rate; it climbed to 10%, and has since fallen to 5%. .. The same PPP poll asked respondents whether the stock market has gone up or down in the Obama era. Again, Republicans said Wall Street has tanked while Democrats said it soared. But the facts are not in dispute: on the day President Obama was inaugurated, the market closed at 7,949.09. As I type, it’s about 17,660. .. [I]f GOP voters want to make the case that Obama’s policies don’t deserve credit, fine. If they want to argue that there are other, more important metrics than unemployment and the stock market, no problem. If they want to suggest things would be even better if the country had adopted a right-wing agenda, we can at least have the conversation. But the polling suggests Republicans prefer to pretend reality just isn’t true.

Red claw, red feathers

May 25, 2016

Nest cams are a cool thing. Until their devoted followers start to anthropomorphize the birds. And get upset when they discover that mother birds can be selective with their chicks, that raptors hunt, and that nature can indeed be red in tooth and claw.

GrrlScientist writes a nice article on the recent research into how birds developed red coloration. And vision.

Handy evolution

May 24, 2016

A paleontologist muses on the evolution of the human hand.

Dear North Carolina

May 23, 2016

A letter worth reading.

Medical diagnosis is not risk free

May 20, 2016

Fivethirtyeight questions some assumptions made by Theranos about the presumed benefit of cheap and easy medical diagnosis. One problem is false positives, and the more invasive diagnostic procedures they would generate. Perhaps larger is the problem that identifying abnormalities that previously went undetected gives no information on whether or not it is beneficial to treat them. As example, better tests for thyroid cancer have detected much more of a cancer that turns out to be quite common, but have not improved mortality. That said, the tests will get better and medical science will figure out which problems to chase and which to leave alone. Pushing the technology will nudge medical practice.

Regardless of coming technology, people still will need to keep their eyes open. Errors in diagnosis and in treatment sometimes are deadly.

Will trucks be the first autonomous vehicles?

May 19, 2016

It seems likely, given the large economies that will bring to the transportation industry, by eliminating millions of jobs. But… there is another important reason. An autonomous truck that works only on highways is quite useful. Human drivers can meet it where more complex, urban navigation is needed, or when there is some unanticipated closure of the highway. Autonomous passenger vehicles need to handle everything from congested urban roads to the dirt path leading to a country house. That is a tougher AI task.

Consciousness, randomness, and the University of Texas

May 18, 2016

I enjoyed reading Galen Strawson’s take on the problem of consciousness. I don’t fully agree. Perception is far from the simple thing people often imagine it. Neurologists and psychologists have a long list of experiments where we fool ourselves about what we perceived, including whether one made a choice one thought one made. What could be simpler than the perception of having chosen? But it’s not.

Still, I was glad to see he is in UT’s Dept. of Philosophy. UT computer scientists recently made a breakthrough on random number generation. (Thanks, Jim.)

I don’t know anything about Niche, but it recently ranked UT as the #1 public school, despite the fact that it is now in the middle of a large city rather than a middle-sized and distinctly weird one.

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