Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Black Death 'kills al-Qaeda operatives in Algeria'

Telegraph | The Black Death has reportedly killed at least 40 al-Qaeda operatives in North Africa. The disease, which struck Europe in the Middle Ages killing more than 25 million people, has swept through a training camp for insurgents in Algeria.

The arrival of the plague was discovered when security forces found the body of a dead terrorist by a roadside, the Sun reports.

The victim belonged to the large al-Qaeda network AQLIM (al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb).

A security source told the paper: "This is the deadliest weapon yet in the war against terror. Most of the terrorists do not have the basic medical supplies needed to treat the disease.

"It spreads It spreads quickly and kills within hours. This will be really worrying al-Qaeda."

Black Death comes in various forms and was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history when it struck in the 1340s killing 75 million people across North Africa, Asia and Europe.

The new epidemic began in the cave hideouts of AQLIM in Tizi Ouzou province, 150km east of the capital Algiers, the Sun reports.

The group, led by wanted terror figure Abdelmalek Droudkal, was forced to turn its shelters in the Yakouren forest into mass graves and flee.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Black Death was not caused by bubonic plague. Bubonic plague - a bacterial infection - has an incubation period of about 6 days, while the demographic records of the period clearly show that the Black Death - almost certainly a hitherto undocumented viral hemorrhagic fever - had a far longer incubation period. Disease transmission for the Black Death had to be person to person rather than via rat fleas or the experience with quarantine would have been ineffective. In addition, plague locations such as Britain were outside the geographic range of the black rat believed to be the carrier.

Bubonic plague is curable with antibiotics, whereas viral hemorrhagic fever (similar to Ebola and Marburg but with droplet transmission) is not, and has an extraordinarily high mortality rate. Interestingly, there is a genetic form of resistance that appears to have developed in Europe as a result of endemic exposure to the Black Death over hundreds of years.

The Return of the Black Death by Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan

Monday, January 19, 2009

deep state designated successor...,

AFP |US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will sit out Barack Obama's inauguration at an undisclosed location as the "designated successor" in the event of a catastrophe, the White House announced Monday.

While the eyes of the world are glued Tuesday to Obama's historic swearing-in, attended by outgoing US President George W. Bush and both outgoing and incoming senior aides, Gates will stay away, said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

"In order to ensure continuity of government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been designated by the outgoing administration, with the concurrence of the incoming administration, to serve as the designated successor during Inauguration Day, Tuesday, January 20th," Perino said.

It is common practice for one senior US official to sit out major events, like the annual State of the Union speech, to ensure that the US government has clear leadership in the event of a disaster or terrorist attack.

Brain Mechanisms Of Social Conformity

Science Daily | Many studies have demonstrated the profound effect of group opinion on individual judgments, and there is no doubt that we look to the behavior and judgment of others for information about what will be considered expected and acceptable behavior.

"We often change our decisions and judgments to conform with normative group behavior," says lead study author Dr. Vasily Klucharev from the F.C. Donders Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging in The Netherlands. "However, the neural mechanisms of social conformity remain unclear."

Dr. Klucharev and colleagues hypothesized that social conformity might be based on reinforcement learning and that a conflict with group opinion could trigger a "prediction error" signal. A prediction error, first identified in reinforcement learning models, is a difference between expected and obtained outcomes that is thought to signal the need for a behavioral adjustment.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activity in subjects whose initial judgments of facial attractiveness were open to influence by group opinion. Specifically, they examined the rostral cingulate zone (RCZ) and the nucleus accumbens (NAc). The RCZ is thought to play a role in monitoring behavioral outcomes, and the NAc has been implicated in the anticipation and processing of rewards as well as social learning.

The study authors found that a conflict with the group opinion triggered a long-term conforming adjustment of an individual's own rating and that conflict with the group elicited a neuronal response in the RCZ and NAc similar to a prediction error signal. Further, the magnitude of the individual conflict-related signal in the NAc correlated with differences in conforming behavior across subjects.

"The present study explains why we often automatically adjust our opinion in line with the majority opinion," says Dr. Klucharev. "Our results also show that social conformity is based on mechanisms that comply with reinforcement learning and is reinforced by the neural error-monitoring activity which signals what is probably the most fundamental social mistake—that of being too different from others."

Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience

The newly emerging field of Social Neuroscience has drawn much attention in recent years, with high-profile studies frequently reporting extremely high (e.g., >.8) correlations between behavioral and self-report measures of personality or emotion and measures of brain activation obtained using fMRI. We show that these correlations often exceed what is statistically possible assuming the (evidently rather limited) reliability of both fMRI and personality/emotion measures. The implausibly high correlations are all the more puzzling because social-neuroscience method sections rarely contain sufficient detail to ascertain how these correlations were obtained.

We surveyed authors of 54 articles that reported findings of this kind to determine the details of their analyses. More than half acknowledged using a strategy that computes separate correlations for individual voxels, and reports means of just the subset of voxels exceeding chosen thresholds. We show how this non-independent analysis grossly inflates correlations, while yielding reassuring-looking scattergrams. This analysis technique was used to obtain the vast majority of the implausibly high correlations in our survey sample. In addition, we argue that other analysis problems likely created entirely spurious correlations in some cases.

We outline how the data from these studies could be reanalyzed with unbiased methods to provide the field with accurate estimates of the correlations in question. We urge authors to perform such reanalyses and to correct the scientific record. Full Monty available for download here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Can Economists Be Trusted?

NYTimes | In last week’s post I argued that the analytic structure through which economists behold the world is based on certain quasi-religious beliefs on the rationality of human beings and the efficiency of markets. These beliefs can blind economists to the foibles of the real world.

Matters are worse when, wittingly or unwittingly, economists infuse their analysis with their own (or a political client’s) preferred ideology.[...]

In the first lecture of my freshman economics course at Princeton titled “The Art of Siffing Among Seasoned Adults,” I demonstrate how seasoned adults routinely structure information felicitously (i.e., “sif”) to further their own agenda, and I point out that economists can be among the most skillful practitioners of this art.

“If at the end of this course you still trust me,” I warn them, “I have failed in my mission. When economists advise on public policy, the operative mantra is Caveat Emptor!”

I am sad to teach it, but consider it fair and full disclosure.

Family Planning — A Special and Urgent Concern

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. | Recently, the press has been filled with reports of sightings of flying saucers. While we need not give credence to these stories, they allow our imagination to speculate on how visitors from outer space would judge us. I am afraid they would be stupefied at our conduct. They would observe that for death planning we spend billions to create engines and strategies for war. They would also observe that we spend millions to prevent death by disease and other causes. Finally they would observe that we spend paltry sums for population planning, even though its spontaneous growth is an urgent threat to life on our planet. Our visitors from outer space could be forgiven if they reported home that our planet is inhabited by a race of insane men whose future is bleak and uncertain.

There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.

What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims.

It is easier for a Negro to understand a social paradox because he has lived so long with evils that could be eradicated but were perpetuated by indifference or ignorance. The Negro finally had to devise unique methods to deal with his problem, and perhaps the measure of success he is realizing can be an inspiration to others coping with tenacious social problems.

In our struggle for equality we were confronted with the reality that many millions of people were essentially ignorant of our conditions or refused to face unpleasant truths. The hard-core bigot was merely one of our adversaries. The millions who were blind to our plight had to be compelled to face the social evil their indifference permitted to flourish.

After centuries of relative silence and enforced acceptance, we adapted a technique of exposing the problem by direct and dramatic methods. We had confidence that when we awakened the nation to the immorality and evil of inequality, there would be an upsurge of conscience followed by remedial action.

We knew that there were solutions and that the majority of the nation were ready for them. Yet we also knew that the existence of solutions would not automatically operate to alter conditions. We had to organize, not only arguments, but people in the millions for action. Finally we had to be prepared to accept all the consequences involved in dramatizing our grievances in the unique style we had devised.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Civil War Close to Home?

California to suspend tax refunds, welfare checks, student grants

LATimes | The state will suspend tax refunds, welfare checks, student grants and other payments owed to Californians starting Feb. 1, Controller John Chiang announced Friday.

Chiang said he had no choice but to stop making some $3.7 billion in payments in the absence of action by the governor and lawmakers to close the state's nearly $42-billion budget deficit. More than half of those payments are tax refunds.

The controller said the suspended payments could be rolled into IOUs if California still lacks sufficient cash to pay its bills come March or April.

"It pains me to pull this trigger," Chiang said at a news conference in his office. "But it is an action that is critically necessary."

The payments to be frozen include nearly $2 billion in tax refunds; $300 million in cash grants for needy families and the elderly, blind and disabled; and $13 million in grants for college students.

Even if a budget agreement is reached by the end of this month, tax refunds and other payments could remain temporarily frozen. Chiang said a budget deal may not generate cash quickly enough to resume them immediately.

Not all payments will stop Feb. 1. Most school and healthcare programs will be paid, as required by state and federal law. The state will continue to pay more than $6.6 billion in such bills.

And Los Angeles County officials said they would cover welfare payments to more than 500,000 local recipients -- for now.

But California is projected to be $346 million short of the funds it needs to pay all its bills in February. By March, the state would be so far in the red that even continuing to suspend payments would not cover the shortfall. California would be insolvent, making the issuance of IOUs likely.

Global Population Speak Out

We invite you to be a part of the Global Population Speak Out (GPSO). It’s a simple idea in response to humanity’s greatest challenge. You are one of a group of important voices we believe can make a difference.

What this is about
Our global ecological plight continues to worsen. A recent WWF Living Planet Report suggests that in “a moderate business-as-usual scenario… exhaustion of ecological assets and large-scale ecosystem collapse become increasingly likely.”

Many of us agree that we are, in fact, well into overshoot of the planet’s capacity to sustain us. Arguably, global ecological collapse is already underway. The progression of the Sixth Mass Extinction, climate change, and an array of other severe, interrelated problems threaten enormous numbers of lives, human and otherwise.

Coverage is lacking
Media coverage of the problem is sorely lacking. Particularly underreported is the fundamental link between the size and growth of the human population and environmental degradation. It is no comfort that the rate of global population growth has slowed in recent years; both our sheer numbers and the scale of our activity are already far beyond Earth’s limits.

We must act. Change does not spring from silence; without getting the population issue to the center of the public discussion, we have no chance to end the global environmental crisis.

It’s hardly surprising, though, that population is barely discussed. The media are generally pro-growth, and public calls to address population often meet criticism and resistance from groups with interests in continued growth. Writers and commentators fear such groups trying to discredit them. Is it any wonder so few want to discuss population under those conditions?

Full Monty here:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Who’s in Charge—Obama, the Pentagon or Israel ?

TruthDig | When Pentagon officials met with Obama last month, there again were winks and nods to the press. Obama was a naive and inexperienced politician from Flyover Land . He could and would be “handled.”

Now Obama has handled them. He has said, no doubt very politely, that he is the president and the military services are constitutionally required to carry out his policy, not their own. This naturally has produced journalistic murmuring of “clashes” between Pentagon and White House. If there should be clashes, the Pentagon will lose. The military have become accustomed to getting whatever it wants from presidents and Congress. That must end, and it is essential that the new president and his military advisers make this clear, however politely.

I began with a comment on luck. That referred to the plunge into the political abyss by the Israeli rightist forces, which are accustomed to claiming that they “own” the U.S. Congress. Israel’s useless, senseless and self-destructive assault on the people of Gaza, and upon the U.N.‘s headquarters and warehouses of food and medicine, has proved globally devastating to the reputation and moral credit of Israel. Even in the United States , there has been a precipitous drop in support for what Israel has been doing, and for Israeli policy in general.

In international political circles, there is disbelief that Israel could imagine that this attack on Hamas, with its civilian casualties and physical destruction of Gaza, would “strengthen” the position of the Palestine Authority and of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party. It is a death blow to them. Israel behaves as if it has completely lost touch with reality.

Thus Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s arrogant utterance that he personally caused the United States to reverse its position on the U.N. Security Council resolution last week demanding a Gaza cease-fire. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had helped organize support for that resolution and had committed the United States to vote in its favor.

Olmert told an Israeli audience that, last Friday, upon hearing of Rice’s position, he immediately telephoned George W. Bush. Told that Bush was delivering an address in Philadelphia , Olmert replied, “I’m not interested,” demanding to speak to Bush. Bush then left his Philadelphia podium and, according to Olmert, the Israeli prime minister instructed the American president that “the U.S. cannot possibly vote in favor of this resolution.” Bush then telephoned Rice and ordered her to abstain from the vote.

That’s Olmert’s story, or Israeli megalomania, presented to the Israelis with pride, but unlikely to be received by Americans with pleasure. William Pfaff


Kyrgyzstan to demand U.S. army withdraw from Ganci air base

Mathaba | Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev will sign a decree demanding the retreat before his visit to Russia in the near future, the news agency said.

Kyrgyzstan will demand the U.S. army dismantle all its facilities at the Ganci base and halt all activities at the base within six months.

The move by Kyrgyzstan will have a positive influence on negotiations between Russia and Kyrgyzstan over the former providing 300 million U.S. dollars credit to the latter, the Russian Business Consulting Agency said.

Bakiyev also hopes Russia will write off about 180 million dollars in debt.

The United States set up the Ganci Air Base at Manas international airport in the suburb of Bishkek in 2001 in its war against Afghanistan.

In recent years, conflicts between U.S. troops and local residents have occurred from time to time. In Dec. 2006, U.S. soldiers stationed at the base killed a local airport worker, drawing resentment from the Kyrgyz public.

The Kyrgyz parliament has urged the government to reconsider the necessity of the existence of the Ganci base.
Kyrgyzstan will call for the U.S. army to withdraw from the Ganci Air Base near its capital Bishkek, Kazakhstan News Agency cited Russian media as reporting on Monday.
What does this mean? Hard to say exactly, but it cannot be great news for US military strategic planners. Is that great game they're all playing going to be heating up soon? Kyrgyzstan straddles the high ground between China and Russia and has great strategic value because of its unique geographic position.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

depression ahead, prepare for stock rout

This just in from the RC-net:
Guardian | Societe Generale said on Thursday that the United States' economy looks likely to enter a depression and China's could implode. In a highly bearish note, veteran cross asset strategist Albert Edwards said investors should now cut equity exposure after a turn-of-the-year rally and prepare for a rout.

He predicted that the S&P 500 index of U.S. stocks could be set for a fall of nearly 70 percent from recent levels. Edwards also raised the danger of a global trade war with China.

"While economic data in developed economies increasingly reflects depression rather than a deep recession, the real surprise in 2009 may lie elsewhere," Edwards wrote.
"It is becoming clear that the Chinese economy is imploding and this raises the possibility of regime change. To prevent this, the authorities would likely devalue the yuan. A subsequent trade war could see a re-run of the Great Depression."

Edwards has long been one of the most bearish analysts in London, first with Dresdner Kleinwort and then with SocGen. But he called in October for clients to increase their exposure to equities, which he said were due a rebound.

"We believe that the market is (now) set to quickly slide sharply towards our 500 target for the S&P," he said. The S&P 500 <.SPX> stock index is currently at 842, up about 14 percent since hitting a low in November.

Peak Capitalism - economists are killing the planet

In this particular session, I want people to understand the main reasons that humans are committing collective suicide. It's because of worthless methodology on the part of the social sciences AND human nature.

The reason that Greenspan failed to understand the impact of peak oil on the economy is because his "methodology" prevented it. The economists must be denounced for their crimes against humanity and removed from their positions of influence. We could discuss this for days...

"Economists have become a plague as dangerous as rabbits, prickly pear or cane toads. Economists have become the cultural cane toads of Canberra, oozing over the landscape and endangering myriad indigenous species. Not only the economy but also mental health would be greatly improved if we could lift the fog of obfuscation on things economic. The first step is to take economists from their pedestal and to see them as the curiosities they are. The first step to reducing their power is to reduce their legitimacy. How is this to be achieved? First, economists' outpourings should, as a matter of principle, be met with laughter, derision, benign paternalism. They should cease to be employed as media commentators. In the long term they should cease to be hired. Let them be pensioned off and die out. Extinction is a worthy end for a profession whose brief is rotten to the core."
-- Dr. Evan Jones, Economics Department, University of Sydney, 1991

"[The Chicago School of Economics is] a great center of contemporary scholasticism. The economists working there and produced by it are as important to the stagnation of useful thought as the Schoolmen of the University of Paris were at the height of the Middle Ages Like that of the Paris scholastics, their mastery of highly complex rhetorical details obscures a great void at the centre of their argument. A large number of America's economic problems could be solved by shutting down the Chicago School of Economics. The purpose of closure would be simply to disentangle a tendentious ideology from its unassailable position within contemporary power structures. The same sort of liberating shock treatment was applied to European civilization in 1723 when the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was disbanded. The effect was to set free the ideas of the Enlightenment."
-- John Ralston Saul, 1994

gazprom recap and subtext...,

Eurasia Daily Monitor | Russia was supposed to resume pumping gas to the EU through Ukraine on January 13 following trilateral Moscow-Kyiv-Brussels talks, but the Russia-Ukraine gas row is far from over. Neither the issue of Kyiv’s debts, the very existence of which Ukraine denies, nor the conditions of gas supply to Ukraine in 2009 have been clarified. There are fears in Kyiv that Moscow wants to take control of Ukraine’s gas transport network. Meanwhile, Ukrainian industry, heavily reliant on gas, is grinding to a halt; and people are freezing in their homes in subzero temperatures.

Russia stopped delivering gas to Ukraine on January 1 in the absence of contracts for 2009; and it stopped gas transit through Ukraine on January 7, accusing Ukraine of siphoning off gas bound for Europe. Ukraine’s gas monopoly Naftohaz Ukrainy admitted that it had been withdrawing 20 to 25 million square meters of gas from the pipelines a day in order to keep up pressure in the pipe needed to pump gas to the EU. Gazprom agreed to resume gas transit only if inspectors representing the European Union, Russia, and Ukraine could verify that no gas was being siphoned off (Kommersant Ukraine, January 12).

A protocol stipulating the conditions of checking the pipelines in Ukraine was signed by the three parties from January 10 to 12 with the mediation of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who traveled between Moscow, Kyiv, and Brussels (Interfax, January 10-12). Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko tried to attach to the protocol a declaration that essentially shifted all the blame for gas transit disruptions on Russia saying that Ukraine did not steal Russian gas and that it had been a reliable partner in gas trade. This angered Moscow. It accepted the protocol only when Tymoshenko backtracked, saying that the declaration was unrelated to the protocol (UNIAN, January 12).

Although gas deliveries to the EU are about to resume, it is too early for the EU consumers of Russian gas to sigh with relief. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that transit through Ukraine might be halted again if Ukraine resumed “stealing” gas (Interfax, January 11). Ukraine has never admitted to “stealing,” and it is still not clear which side will pay for the “technological” gas that Ukraine uses to maintain pressure in the pipelines. In the absence of contracts between Ukraine and Russia, new disruptions to the gas transit cannot be ruled out.

Russia insists that Ukraine owes $600 million for gas delivered in 2008, and Gazprom wants Ukraine to reimburse $800 million that it lost because of the transit halt (Ekho Moskvy, January 12). But the issue of the gas price for 2009 remains the thorniest. According to Kommersant, Ukraine has agreed to pay $250 per 1,000 square meters of gas, a price Gazprom offered at the end of December and Naftohaz rejected; but Moscow now wants “the market price” of $450, something that Kyiv simply cannot afford (Kommersant Ukraine, January 13).

It is feared in the Yushchenko administration that the gas row may result in Ukraine losing the gas transit network, which is probably the country’s most lucrative asset. Putin said in a recent interview that Russia was not against taking part in the network’s privatization (Interfax, January 11). The head of Yushchenko’s office, Viktor Baloha, accused Russia of “blackmailing” Ukraine in order to grab the network. According to Baloha, if Kyiv did not agree to Moscow’s conditions, Moscow expected an uprising against Yushchenko in the industrial east prompted by a stoppage of the local industry and freezing cold in homes as a result of the absence of gas (Ukrainska Pravda, January 10). Ukrainian laws forbid the network’s privatization.

Chávez Reopens Oil Bids to West

NYTimes | President Hugo Chávez, buffeted by falling oil prices that threaten to damage his efforts to establish a Socialist-inspired state, is quietly courting Western oil companies once again.

Until recently, Mr. Chávez had pushed foreign oil companies here into a corner by nationalizing their oil fields, raiding their offices with tax authorities and imposing a series of royalties increases.

But faced with the plunge in prices and a decline in domestic production, senior officials have begun soliciting bids from some of the largest Western oil companies in recent weeks — including Chevron, Royal Dutch/Shell and Total of France — promising them access to some of the world’s largest petroleum reserves, according to energy executives and industry consultants here.

Their willingness to even consider investing in Venezuela reflects the scarcity of projects open to foreign companies in other top oil nations, particularly in the Middle East.

But the shift also shows how the global financial crisis is hampering Mr. Chávez’s ideological agenda and demanding his pragmatic side. At stake are no less than Venezuela’s economic stability and the sustainability of his rule. With oil prices so low, the longstanding problems plaguing Petróleos de Venezuela, the national oil company that helps keep the country afloat, have become much harder to ignore.

Magic and Realism

NYTimes | One thing seems certain: The meltdown is going to hang over at least the first 18 months of the Obama presidency. The Treasury is bare. Americans are deluged in debt. Confidence has been Madoffed.

That’s the realism. But this 47-year-old man of mixed race, whose very name — O-Ba-Ma — has the three-syllable universality of a child’s lullaby, has always had something of the providential about him, a global figure who looks more like the guy at the local bodega than the guys on dollar bills. That’s the magic.

He needs this magic, which resonates in a voice with the solemn clarity of a bell. Smart power will not be enough. If it were, Americans would have elected Hillary Clinton president.

But in their abiding good sense, Americans intuited the imperative to reach beyond smartness for some ineffable quality, capable of unifying and inspiring at a time of national and global division.

Inevitably, the nation is looking back to 1932. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural, with the economy devastated by the Depression. He also said: “This nation asks for action and action now.”

Action followed — a torrent of legislation and speeches in the first 100 days designed to kick-start the country.

Obama has been vowing a similar flurry, but has also been talking down expectations, saying things are going to get worse. That may be true, but he has to be careful. An excess of realism will undo him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

magical false positives...,

Warsocialism | “The human mind evolved to believe in gods... Acceptance of the supernatural conveyed a great advantage throughout prehistory, when the brain was evolving. Thus it is in sharp contrast to [science] which was developed as a product of the modern age and is not underwritten by genetic algorithms.” – E.O. Wilson

“Magical thinking” is defined as “non-scientific causal reasoning” or “correlation”. I define “political thinking” (which apparently has no formal definition) as trying to prove one’s assertions are true instead of trying to “falsify” them like a scientist or a good engineer.

We are genetically both “magical” and “political” thinkers. However, we can be specifically trained to use the scientific thinking in specific domains. Unfortunately, training in one domain does not mean we automatically use scientific thinking in other domains. The best scientists are just as likely as anyone else to use magic and politics in domains they haven’t been trained in.

Imagine yourself in Africa and you notice a herd of zebra staring intently at the trees. You stop and look at the trees, but you can not see anything. Suddenly a huge lion bursts out of the tree line, grabs an impala, and hauls it off. Every time after that, when you see zebras staring at trees, you will think “lions”. That is precisely the kind of magical thinking which would have kept our ancestors alive.

Political thinking co-evolved and was required to give magical thinking at least half of its value. Saving the lives of your fellows – by convincing them that a lion was nearby – was absolutely vital to your own survival. A few thousand years ago, almost no penalty would be attached to a “false positive” in this “lion in the trees” situation. Today, magical false positives on the part of social scientists are going to kill us all:

“Oil is a renewable resource, with no intrinsic value over and above its marginal cost... There is no original stock or store of wealth to be doled out on any special criterion... Capital markets are equipped to handle [oil depletion].” – M. A. Adelman

The social sciences employ magical (correlation) and political (proving oneself right) thinking. False positives on the part of economists (all economic theory) caused WW1 & WW2.

The “economic method” (correlation and “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”) is the opposite of the “scientific method”:

Hanson's Peak Capitalism Discussion - Day One

Is an "intentionally sustainable" human society to replace capitalism even possible, or are countries condemed to fight to the death over the remaining energy resources? 

This first day I want to introduce a couple of key points raised in Henry Plotkin's EVOLUTIONARY THOUGHT IN PSYCHOLOGY and also discuss "magical thinking" in the social sciences. It's literally impossible to understand the problems that confront us today if one's methodology is flawed! Widespread ignorance concerning these topics exists today in our universities (perhaps intentionally for political purposes). Hopefully, the following comments will explain why our universities are helpless in the face of our widespread social problems and lead to changes and solutions. 

Plotkin identifies the origins of evolutionary thought (and the nature-nurture debate) as beginning two thousand years ago in Plato's MENO: 

"Can you tell me, Socrates - can virtue be taught, or is it rather to be acquired by practice? Or is it neither to be practiced nor learned, but something that comes to men by nature..." 

Plato's student, Aristotle, had a profound effect on Western thinking because his teachings were adopted and taught by the Catholic Church. One of Aristotle's major achievements was the invention of formal deductive logic which consisted of four forms of "causation." We are concerned here with Aristotle's first and last causes: the "material cause" and the "final cause." 

The "material cause" of a book would be the physical processes used in making the book. For example, making paper from trees, making ink, running the paper through the printing press, etc. In other words, Aristotle's material cause would be cause and effect as a scientist would describe it. 

The "final cause" of a book would be the "goal" of the book. For example, educating the public. This is also known as "teleological thinking" and is fundamentally unscientific because it places effects before their causes. Nevertheless, Aristotle's 2,000 year old final cause is still used by social scientists today. 

Suppose one were playing pool and attempted to hit the ONE ball with the CUE ball. When the cue ball was struck, a scientific thinker would explain the behavior of the CUE ball in scientific terms: Hooke's Law, Newton's Second Law, and so on. However, a teleological thinker would explain the behavior of the CUE ball in terms of goals: the CUE ball wanted to hit the ONE ball. In other words, the teleological explanation places the effect before the cause. 

Suppose a man was driving to work. Suddenly, a dog ran in front of his car. The man swerved to avoid the dog. A scientist would explain his avoidance behavior in terms of photons striking his eye, the signals being sent to the proper areas of his brain, neurons recognizing the image, (and so on): cause before effect. A social scientist - a teleological thinker - would say that he wanted to avoid the dog: effect before cause. 

"Magical thinking" is the common term for the teleological thinking which social scientists use to explain our social world. If you haven't already done so, please view this video  

Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to discuss the issues introduced in this first post. Teleogical thinking is worthless for discovering how the human brain works.


Guardian | Russia accused the US last night of "orchestrating" Europe's gas crisis as gas deliveries to the EU were halted hours after they resumed, amid venomous exchanges of accusations between Moscow and Kiev.

Gazprom, Russia's gas company, said its pumping stations began sending gas through Ukraine early yesterday, following a monitoring deal signed in Brussels on Monday. But hours later, Gazprom said Ukraine was blocking the flow of gas - adding that the US was to blame.

The EU said "little or no gas" flowed yesterday to countries in central and southern Europe suffering acute energy shortages. Gazprom said Ukraine had stopped shipments and prevented Russian observers from entering its gas stations. Ukraine said Russia had "provocatively" sent the gas the wrong way, and compared Moscow's actions to the Nazi siege of Leningrad.

"We believed yesterday that the door for Russian gas was open but again it's been blocked by the Ukrainians," said Gazprom's deputy chairman, Alexander Medvedev. "It looks like ... they are dancing to the music which is being orchestrated not in Kiev but outside the country."