Global warming and automobile industry stupidity

July 15, 2007

One of the major contributors to global warming is the high inefficiency of automobiles. Why are they so inefficient, why is mileage so low, far less than possible? Because the US automobile industry is determined to drive itself out of business. It has been losing market share to foreigners who have more efficient cars for a long time. If the US companies tried to build cars that are far more efficient, which can easily be done, they would not only help fight climate change, but would be far more profitable and would end the possibility of going bankrupt. However that would be socially useful and they certainly wouldn’t want to do that.  It is far better to go bankrupt.

Did the leaders of the automobile industry go to business school? Perhaps in order to get a job in the industry they had to flunk out.

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Health care: Is it rationally possible?

July 10, 2007

The US health care “system” has been carefully designed to produce the lowest possible health care at the highest possible cost, and as a sideline drive many businesses into bankruptcy while undermining our competitive position with respect to the rest of the world. It is an interesting question that should be studied by psychologists and political scientists why we insist on such a “system”. There are much better ways but these are politically impossible. Here we consider a better system. Since it is designed to deliver the highest possible care at the lowest cost there is no possibility that it can be adopted. But hopefully it will stimulate thinking.

There are two parts: how care should be paid for and how should it be delivered.

The present “system” is designed so that people can fool themselves into thinking that someone else is paying for their health care: the government, insurance, their employers, anyone but themselves. When we were little mommy and daddy paid for our food, our clothes, our health care. But we are big boys and girls now. We pay for our food, our clothes, our health care. The government collects taxes from us to pay, insurance collects premiums, our employers reduce our wages. Or they raise prices (most likely affecting the poor more than the middle class; thus this accomplishes a standard US policy aim: getting the poor to subsidize the middle class). A major problem is a disconnect between costs and benefits. Everything must be done to keep people alive, even after they die, no matter how great the suffering. Why not, it’s free. Insurance pays for it. If the great god Insurance were more generous it would provide us with even more benefits (intravenous medication to keep us alive even after burial?). Of course it is only the nasty insurance companies that keep premiums so high.

If we have a national plan should we also be putting more money into it? Of course. Let’s cut defense, foreign aid, agriculture, food stamps, …, and on and on. But this cannot easily be done. Health insurance is uniquely an individual matter. We can’t allocate to each person the costs for his, hers or its share of national defense. But we can for health care. Each person should be charged an individual health insurance premium, based on taxable income and number of dependents. The trivial, costless way would be the tax return. On the tax return the line “total tax” would be replaced by three, “total tax”, “health premium” and total. This would have zero additional enforcement costs and essentially no extra work or red tape. It is too simple to be acceptable.

How should health care be provided? One way is pay for service. How many people would be comfortable going to a surgeon who recommends surgery, knowing that he will be paid $10,000 for it? The surgeon could be paid a salary. But then there would be no economic incentive to provide proper service, especially efficiently and economically.

Competition is the way.

There should be HMOs set up, with several hundred thousand patients each (so that any procedure would be only a small fraction of the total cost of a plan). These could be commercial, non-profit, confederation of doctors and so on, whatever they wished. Large cities would have several, which would set standards. Doing this in rural communities would be harder. Each person would pick a plan. The plan would then be paid a premium for that person based on what, on average, the cost of caring for the patient is. This probably can be based on three variables, (obviously) age, sex and also place of residence (census tract). That would be a proxy for socioeconomic status. Also NY say is costly so this would be factored in. There are districts where AIDS, for example, is prevalent and this would be included. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies can estimate the number of doctors needed per thousand patients, the number of nurses, and so on, and what the costs are. Thus they can compute the average cost per average patient, then modified for such particular characteristics of each patient. Young people would cost little but they would not be more desirable since the premium for them would be correspondingly less. The Social Security Administration has the information about people so enrollment would be done by computer. A person would just fill out a card with name (and address) and SS# and a check showing the group desired and the rest would be done by computer. Groups would compete for patients. Those that were more attractive, and more efficient, would be more profitable (or doctors would have a higher income). This provides incentives. Information about each plan would be collected (including disciplinary actions) and patients’ opinions of their plan, and this would be organized and then can easily be provided so people would have the information needed to decide which plan they want.

The transition period from the present disorganization to a reasonable system would be somewhat messy, but necessary whatever is done. Companies would no longer pay for health insurance so they should be required to increase wages by an equivalent amount.

There should be some oversight and requirements, for example emphasizing preventive care. But these requirements hopefully would be minimal. If a plan does not cover some illness and a patient went to the emergency room, he, she or it would be taken care of, but the plan would be charged. It would lose control, which it would not like.

There should also be a governing board (to prevent Congress from getting too involved and bogged down). It would decide what people want and set standards. Do we want to pump blood through dead bodies? If so we will pay for it. If not we will let people die in peace. What new, and costly, surgeries and drugs do we want? By tying costs to what people pay on their tax returns we will make more rational, and more humane, decisions. The government’s involvement will be small (appealing to those who fear governmental intervention in medical care). Most of it can be computerized. Decisions will be made by the market. Competition will spur efficiencies and improvements.
With this everyone will have reasonable care, something we should want, businesses will be relieved of a potentially fatal burden, the government will largely stay out. That should appeal to conservatives. What can anyone object to (except those who profit from the fatal illnesses of the current mess)?

This is a plan everyone can rally around. It is time to start moving.

Approval of drugs

July 10, 2007

How should new drugs be approved? We tend to believe that a drug is perfect, a completely safe and faultless cure for what it is intended for (and often for what it is not). Then when there are side effects we suddenly regard it as too dangerous to use and it must be banned immediately. Both views are wrong. There should be a balance of risks and rewards. New drugs especially have risks. Some people will be hurt. What should be done? We have developed a value system with the belief that a person who is injured should not be left without compensation, increasing the damage, a reasonable choice. Thus there should be insurance. We have an insurance system, malpractice, but it is an irrational one.

Drugs are approved after testing. But it is impossible to test enough people and still have drugs approved in a reasonable amount of time and at reasonable cost. Thus there has to be post-market surveys, which is recognized and required, but not enforced. This is easily fixed. Approval should be for 2 years (although different types of drugs might require different lengths of time). For reapproval post-marketing data must be submitted. This should be done several times until the risk profile, and the drug’s value, is clear. Thus post-marketing surveys will be ensured.

And insurance for drugs and new types of surgeries should be required. That will provide compensation in a rational manner. And it will inform people of the risks so that they can make more rational decisions. There will be a statement on the label “one quarter of the cost of this is for insurance, which is high”. Patients and doctors can then discuss whether the risks are worth taking. As more experience is gained and the potential dangers lessened the premium will generally be decreased. Related is the overmarketing increasing the dangers; too often drugs are pushed for off-label uses for which they should not, or rarely, be used. Overmarketing will increase the premium, increasing the price and emphasizing the danger of the drug, making it less desirable. There will not have to be fights at the FDA on banning the drug. The insurance company will have its money at risk so it will greatly increase the premium, if the drug is misused, providing a warning, and decreasing sales. The drug companies will thus have an incentive not to overmarket. Both liberals and conservatives should like this. We will have fewer risks from drugs, and the ones will be better known, the government’s role will be decreased, people will be freer to make their own decisions, private enterprise and the market will decide.

If the drug companies are honest they will have nothing to fear if the drug causes problems. If they are dishonest they will not only have to fight malpractice suits, but fight the insurance companies. And the premiums for all their other drugs will increase. This will make honesty and transparency much more attractive than now.

What can be done about tobacco use?

July 10, 2007

There is a way to eventually reduce smoking to a very small minimum: nationalize the tobacco industry. Its officials have a fiduciary responsibility to increase profits, that is a fiduciary responsibility to kill people, to lure children to their deaths. Thus they must market death and attempts to reduce smoking have to fight this. That makes it very difficult. The aim of a nationalized industry would be to decrease smoking and tobacco use in general. This will take time as many are addicted. But certainly we should aim to prevent children from becoming addicted. The prices of tobacco products should be increased steadily. It is difficult to do all this immediately since so many are addicted. They should be provided much help to quit.

Cigarette packages are attractive. Would people smoke less if the packages were ugly, dirtyish browns or grays with “US Government, tobacco products authority” at the top? The complete set
of ingredients should be listed on the front (people react negatively to strange chemical names; how many people would feel uncomfortable drinking dihydrogen oxide?). Also on the front should be a list of “carcinogens (cancer-causing agents)”, plus amounts of radioactivity in each cigarette. Would that make smokers uncomfortable? Teen-agers start smoking as a form of rebellion. Would they want to do so by buying a package labeled “US Government”?

It is not hopeless. Much can be done. And it should not be difficult. Try
getting people to eat less.

But it is essential that the authorities gain complete control so they can do everything to help people quit, and especially to prevent them from starting. This means taking control of the industry. This should not be costly. A bill should be introduced nationalizing the industry with compensation based on the stock prices on the day the bill is introduced. People will realize that is the highest price they will get thus forcing the price down. Then the bill can be amended to set the price at what it is on the day the amendment is introduced, and so on. This will greatly reduce the cost of nationalization. And it should be done soon. People are dying.

Privacy and absurdity in health care

July 10, 2007

There is now great emphasis on privacy in health care, which is important. But what is not recognized is that privacy does not imply absurdity. The HIPAA law (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) requires privacy. The problem is that people, medical people, do not know what this means. Thus many weird ideas have arisen, some perhaps deliberately, but with no basis in reality or law. These are wrong and can be harmful. The fundamental rule is use common sense, something quite uncommon.

One absurd idea is that HIPAA prohibits e-mail, requiring the use of less secure telephones.

The supposed e-mail rule is not true. The Privacy Rule permits communications in any form if they are “reasonable.” To see the official HHS position on this, go to the OCR website at http://www.hhs.gov/hipaafaq. Then enter e-mail in the search box and it will appear.

“Does the HIPAA Privacy Rule permit a doctor, laboratory, or other
health care provider to share patient health information for treatment
purposes by fax, e-mail, or over the phone?
Answer
Yes. The Privacy Rule allows covered health care providers to share
protected health information for treatment purposes without patient
authorization, as long as they use reasonable safeguards when doing
so. These treatment communications may occur orally or in writing, by
phone, fax, e-mail, or otherwise.

For example:

– A laboratory may fax, or communicate over the phone, a patient’s
medical test results to a physician.
– A physician may mail or fax a copy of a patient’s medical record to
a specialist who intends to treat the patient.
– A hospital may fax a patient’s health care instructions to a nursing
home to which the patient is to be transferred.
– A doctor may discuss a patient’s condition over the phone with an
emergency room physician who is providing the patient with emergency
care.
– A doctor may orally discuss a patient’s treatment regimen with a
nurse who will be involved in the patient’s care.
– A physician may consult with another physician by e-mail about a
patient’s condition.
– A hospital may share an organ donor’s medical information with
another hospital treating the organ recipient.

The Privacy Rule requires that covered health care providers apply
reasonable safeguards when making these communications to protect the
information from inappropriate use or disclosure. These safeguards may
vary depending on the mode of communication used. For example, when
faxing protected health information to a telephone number that is not
regularly used, a reasonable safeguard may involve a provider first
confirming the fax number with the intended recipient. Similarly, a
covered entity may pre-program frequently used numbers directly into
the fax machine to avoid misdirecting the information. When discussing
patient health information orally with another provider in proximity
of others, a doctor may be able to reasonably safeguard the
information by lowering his or her voice.”

This takes care of that absurdity and provides a means of dealing with others.

Thanks to Mark A. Rothstein for aid in getting this information.

Should the police torture sick people?

July 10, 2007

Practicing medicine without a license is a crime, except when it’s done by the police, including the Drug Enforcement Agency. There is a story in the NY Times Magazine (June 17) by Tina Rosenberg about a physician who is serving a long prison term for prescription practices the DEA does not like. Was he wrong? That should be determined by pain specialists not by the police.  Here clearly the DEA is practicing medicine, so it is the DEA that is committing a crime. The police should not practice medicine. This leads (among other problems) to undertreatment of pain. And pain kills. There are many who have died from it  (often unnecessarily, because that is what the law requires). What would we think of a criminal who tortures and then kills? Obviously such a person should get a long prison term, life without the possibility of parole. Why should the DEA be treated differently? If you were in pain who would you want to treat you, a physician or the DEA? In this country we have decided it should be the DEA. Is that really what the people of this country want?

Then there is the question of medical marijuana. People feel that they desperately need it. Why shouldn’t they get it? Because it has not been approved. (You must not do what the people in power do not want you to do!).  And of course it will never be approved.

There are underlying psychological reasons for these positions and behaviors. There are people who have an intense need to tell other people what to do. That is the reason for dictatorships and authoritarian governments. But the need is almost universal. It can be seen in so many ways, including drug policies. Of course in all these it does much harm. But people feel their emotional needs are more important than even the lives of others. Realizing this makes much, not only drug policies, clear.

Conservatives, who are the ones most supportive of such policies, believe that people should suffer. They have both a theological belief and an underlying (sadistic) need to see people suffer. They cannot tolerate seeing people get relief from pain or misery. That is why they (including the DEA) are so strongly attached to policies designed to continue and increase suffering.

Conservatives are opposed to governmental interference in people’s lives except when that hurts others.

How to show the value of evolution and the absurdity of the blasphemous alternatives

July 4, 2007

Evolution is under attack — continuously. Despite the overwhelming experimental support for it, and despite the absurdities of the blasphemous creationism and intelligent design theories, it has been impossible to even make a dent in the problem. Perhaps we in the scientific community are encouraging, not demolishing, our opponents.
It is our responsibility to teach what evolution is and why it, and only it, is a scientific theory — and more important what science is, how it works, and why. Yet we are teaching exactly the opposite.
When an action is taken that we do not like we immediately run to court (which happens in too many other fields) and the court rules that evolution is the official religion of the educational system and only that must be taught. The lesson then is quite clear. Scientific theories are what the courts say they are. If you want your views to be accepted, and more be the official ones, change the courts.
Another approach is to vote out offending school boards. Scientific theories are determined by who has the most votes. This makes it clear to supporters of other views that what they have to do is get out their votes.
An important argument is that students must learn evolution to get into college. Thus correct theories are decided by those who have the power to do so. It is clear what people who hold other views should do, and they are doing it successfully as not only the last election has shown. It is not surprising that they are using their power at the local level to force out evolution. That is exactly what we have been teaching them to do.
This is what the public has been learning about science — might makes right — because that is what we are teaching. Science is what those in power decide it is. There is no attempt to explain how the correctness of theories is determined and why some theories are correct, others cannot be. We are failing in our responsibilities (not only with regard to evolution), but worse are being misleading. We are teaching, but teaching just the opposite of the truth.
But evolution is just a theory — that is a guess. That view is quite reasonable since we never show that it has strong support, strong experimental backing, strong explanatory power.
There are reasons for the way our community is behaving. Part is incompetence, but unnecessary incompetence. People do not even try to think about the problem, just react. And most (almost all) scientists, including biologists, do not know why evolution makes sense and the evidence for it, nor why other theories are nonsense. Hence they are completely unable to teach it, especially in informal settings (like political ones). So they haven’t.
A major obstacle is that we do not want to teach. We only want to be recognized as superior to others. We are the experts and you must listen to us. Egos of scientists are very harmful. Of course those pushing other views want to be recognized as superior because they are more moral, believing in God (although showing contempt for It). This is a battle, not about science, but of self-images. And we are losing. We would win if we forgot about our egos and try to deal with the problems.
And insistence that we are the experts can backfire. “My minister is an expert in the Bible and according to him the Bible says … . Why should I believe your expert and not my expert?”
It is essential to be clear about our aims. It is not to convert these people; that is almost impossible as there are deep underlying psychological reasons. It is only to prevent them from interfering with schools, education, public policy. They can go home and do whatever they wish and just stop causing problems.
Our whole approach is defensive. But the best defense is a good offense. Challenge them, force them to admit that what they are pushing is nonsense.
Here an approach is outlined. It is discussed in much greater depth elsewhere [Mirman (OAIU)].
It is important to understand first what the issue is. It is not science, but self-images and group identity. Ours and theirs. “Those who believe in God are good people, those who do not are bad” (the opposite of what reality shows). “Those who believe in evolution do not believe in God thus are bad people. But I am opposed to evolution showing that I believe in God and am a good person.” Actually those who believe in the blasphemous creation and ID theories are angry at God because It did not create the universe the way they think It should have. They think that they are better than God, they show contempt for God, they regard the words of humans as superior to those of God as shown in Its work, the natural world — thus are deeply evil. They push these blasphemous theories in order to flaunt their anger at God, their contempt for God. This must be stressed again and again.
What is the proper criterion for scientific theories [Mirman (2001a), sec.~I.4.c, p.~17]? It is not that they are true because we cannot know truth (nor does this word have meaning in this context) rather that they are useful. And truth changes as science advances. A theory can be total nonsense but not only useful but mandatory. Classical physics is inherently contradictory, impossible, nonsense, and quantum mechanics necessary [Mirman (1995b)], but our civilization could not exist if it is not used. It is total nonsense but indispensable. If they admit that evolution is useful (and it is extremely so) but that the blasphemous theories are totally useless they can regard as truth whatever they want. But schools should not teach useless nonsense. And if they claim their theories are useful they must show how.
We should not ask students to believe in evolution. Belief is a religious word. Schools should ask not what students believe, but what they know. They should know what evolution is, how it works, why it is valuable, how that is determined, and why no other theory is. They can believe anything they want. If they want to believe the earth is flat they can believe the earth is flat. They should know the evidence that it is (roughly) spherical. They can believe in ghosts if they want. Schools should not have courses in ghosts.
Thus force them into ridiculous positions where they have to admit they do not know what they are saying. How did the creator create? Did it draw pictures? Blueprints perhaps? Did it write a computer program? And so on. Which part of its brain developed the design? The prefrontal cortex? Does the designer’s brain have neurons? Do they have myelin sheaths?
Also intelligence is not a single talent but a set (which those trying to develop artificial intelligence do not understand). Does an “intelligent designer” have the same set of abilities that we do or a completely different set? Does it have musical intelligence, artistic, social, emotional, mathematical intelligence? How do we know? And if we do not know how can we say that the designer is intelligent — to what talents does this word apply?
And how did it interact with matter to make it conform to its designs? Does it have hands? Did it blow on matter? Else how?
If they cannot answer they have to admit that their words are meaningless — hot air. To give sense to what they claim they must regard the designer as a human being, perhaps a superior one but a human nevertheless, clearly blasphemous. These are discussed in depth elsewhere [Mirman (OAIU)].
Those who believe that the biological world is too complicated to have arisen by randomness but must have been designed (saying thereby that they are too incompetent to even try to understand it, which we do not disagree with) should explain how it was designed and how saying that helps us in any way. Where does it lead to? Of course if what they mean is that they cannot try to understand so do not want to, we would agree that is helpful to them. It gives them an excuse to go away.
The road to understanding is long and difficult. Those who are trying are making progress. Those who give up accomplish nothing. But the road is more than difficult. The views are fascinating, the adventure of studying nature is the greatest possible. We can only feel sorry for those who feel they are unable to take this journey with us, who feel too incompetent to experience the joys of discovery. They have given up hope of ever sharing the delights of the adventure, of the knowledge and of gaining understanding. Fortunately most of us are capable of sharing these enchantments.
What we must do, what we have an obligation to do, is show why evolution is useful, has explanatory power. Then ask them to do the same with their theories. Evolution can be tested experimentally. Are they testing their theories? Or perhaps they are not because they cannot, their theories lack content and the inability to test them, to do research using them and on them, shows that. We must present the challenge and show that evolution, and science, can meet it. Can other views do so?
Here are a few examples that can be used to compare theories. More are given elsewhere [Mirman (OAIU)]. These illustrate what can and should be done but are presented only for that purpose. For reasons of space evolutionary explanations are not provided, only references where these can be found. Biologists can add hundreds more. What would be useful is a database (perhaps on a web site) with hundreds of these to which teachers, and others, can refer. If anyone pushes other views we can ask them to answer the questions, provide the explanations. Seeing a list of hundreds that need answers is likely to quite discourage them. Or they can just admit that they are not capable of even trying, although many, many scientists are, and with success.
These examples involve technicalities, which is deliberate. If we ask how flight developed (and questions might be built on this) it is easier to confuse with meaningless verbiage. For these it is much harder.
It is important to not only give answers to these questions but to also explain how these answers result from the theory being tested. It is often easy to think of answers and use them to justify a theory when actually they are in no way related to that theory. Carefully relating predictions and explanations to a theory is essential for evaluating its correctness.
1. Explain why fossil evidence shows [Dawkins (1997), p.~91] that the jaw bones in the reptiles that led to mammals (therapsids [Thain and Hickman (2000), p.~391]) gradually became our ear bones (those in the middle ear, the ossicles).
2. Why do pinnipeds have hints of claws in their paddles [Wyss (1989)]? What predictions can be made from this? What evidence is there for suggested explanations?
3. Why do finches in Alabama and Montana differ in the order of the sexes of the eggs they lay [Badyaev, Hill, Beck, Dervan, Duckworth, McGraw, Nolan and Whittingham (2002); Pennisi (2002)]? Why do mothers have the ability to control the sex of each of their eggs?
4. Explain the relationship of male sex choice, {\it Wolbachia bacteria} and insect speciation [Hurst and Randerson (2002)].
5. What determines the range of differences between proteins in the yeast {\it Saccharomyces cerevisiae} and the nematode worm {\it Caenorhabditis elegans} [Fraser {\it et al.} (2002)]?
6. How are the structures and behaviors of figs and fig wasps related? Why? Discuss in depth how to study this [Dawkins (1997), p.~308] so providing a synopsis of (part of) the scientific method. Why is that used? Why is it relevant for studies such as this? How does it give firm evidence and better evidence then other ways of study if there are such? In what ways is it related to underlying views of nature and how does it support, or refute, them?
If supporters of the blasphemous ID and creation theories cannot provide answers then they must admit that their theories, no matter how emotionally satisfying, are not scientific, have no content, are totally worthless. Let us force them to do that.

References:

Badyaev, Alexander V., Geoffrey E. Hill, Michelle L. Beck, Anne M. Dervan, Ren\'{e}e A. Duckworth, Kevin J. McGraw, Paul M. Nolan, Linda A. Whittingham (2002), Sex-based hatching order and adaptive population divergence in a passerine bird {\em Science} {\bf 295,} \#5553, 11 Jan., p.~316-318.
Dawkins, Richard (1997), Climbing Mount Improbable (New York, W. W. Norton and Co. Inc.).
Fraser, Hunter B., Aaron E. Hirsh, Lars M. Steinmetz, Curt Scharfe, Marcus W. Feldman (2002), Evolutionary Rate in the Protein Interaction Network, {\em Science} {\bf 296,} \#5568, 26 Apr., p.~750-752.
Hurst, Laurence D. and James P. Randerson (2002), Parasitic Sex Puppeteers, {\em Scientific American} {\bf 286,} \#4, April, p.~56-61.
Mirman, R. (1995b), Group Theoretical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (Commack, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.; to be republished by Backinprint.com).
Mirman, R. (2001a), Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Field Theory: geometry, language, logic (Huntington, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.; republished by Backinprint.com).
Mirman, R. (OAIU), Our Almost Impossible Universe: Why the laws of nature make the existence of humans extraordinarily unlikely
(see book list)
Pennisi, Elizabeth (2002), Finches adapt rapidly to new homes, {\em Science} {\bf 295,} \#5553, 11 Jan., p.~249-250.
Thain, M. and M. Hickman (2000), The Penguin Dictionary of Biolgy (London: Penguin Books Ltd.).
Wyss, Andr\'{e} R. (1989), Thicker than water: The ancestral ties between seals, sea lions, and walruses, {\em The Sciences} {\bf 29, } \#4, July/August, p.~34-37.

The stem cell veto

July 2, 2007

The veto by George Bush of the bill to allow more research with stem cells was clearly an attempt to please his base, no matter what the consequences, no matter what the harm, no matter what the suffering. His base of course consists of those who believe that life consists of only one thing: sex. He stated that the US is “founded on the principle that all human life is sacred”. This implies that he will immediately pull out of Iraq. (Thanks to Robert L. Park for suggesting this.) How can he say this and still continue a hopeless war killing thousands of people? Actually it is quite simple. The thousands of soldiers, the thousands of Iraqis, have no sexual significance, thus they are not real human life, certainly religious people would never regard them as such. And Bush represents those who believe human life is of no value unless it involves sex in some way. Those dying of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, those tortured by severe pain, children who are sick, who are dying, those with the tremendous emotional and financial burdens of caring for the sick, the dying, they have no value. They have nothing to do with sex. Why should anyone possibly care about them? But a single fertilized cell has great sexual significance so it is sacred. How can anyone consider a sick and dying child, with no sexual connotations, to possibly be of greater value than a cell so clearly intimately related to sex?

An Islamic terrorist bomber (quite religious) has been quoted as saying that they wanted to attack women at a nightclub whom they regarded as promiscuous. They are so obsessed with sex that it drives them to murder. George Bush and his base are undoubtedly quite sympathetic.

Neuroscientists and evolution theorists should try to understand the intimate coupling between religion and sex.

Perhaps the people of the US should be asked whether they agree with their President, and conservative religious people, that sex is more important than people’s lives.

Mandatory service requirement for high school students

July 2, 2007

Sen. Dodd has proposed that all high school students be required to perform community service in order to graduate. Why only high school students? Because they are young and defenseless. If he really feels forced community service is useful why require it only of those not able to defend themselves? Let us require it at 17, and also 27, 37, 47, 57, 67.  It should not only apply to them but to us. Will it (forced service) provide tangible benefits to the communities? Or more likely will it provide deeply resentful, angry students who do very poor jobs, cause many problems and be destructive forces?  Will it (forced labor) instill the values of public service or will it cause many to so despise public service that they will even be less likely to vote?

There are many students badly needing extra time to study (which they often do not use properly). Well so what if this forced service causes them to drop out. And there are many who must work (distracting them from what they should be doing: studying). They can also drop out since they will no longer have time. There is a simple way of avoiding this requirement, dropping out. A major problem of our educational system is the high dropout rate. And there are many, many students just barely hanging on.  It should be a major aim of our society to keep children in school, to lower, vastly, the dropout rate. But the idea of forcing people to do something is so attractive that Sen. Dodd is trying to increase the number who drop out.

One reason he proposes this is that he performed service and enjoyed it. Of course he didn’t have the financial and other problems many students do. (His father was a senator.) Since he enjoyed it others will also. Obviously he will also enjoy what others do. There are many (but not nearly enough) who greatly enjoy research in mathematics. It is challenging and fascinating.  Since these people greatly enjoy mathematics so should Sen. Dodd. After he publishes a couple of papers in mathematics he can then say that because he enjoyed service, others will also.

Genes, to the extent that there are any, matter, but not that much

June 28, 2007

It has long been a superstition that we are determined by our genes; given the set of genes it is possible to reconstruct the organism. This has long been known to be wrong. Genes are only a small part of the genome, with the role played by the rest largely mysterious, but important.  And the genome itself is modified in reproduction, not only by epigenetics.  Genes are an essential part of a cell, but only a part. It is the cell that reproduces, and the cell that is reproduced. However as is becoming increasingly clear “gene” itself is a fuzzy concept. Perhaps in reality there is no such thing, or it exists only in special cases. (DNA study forces rethink of what it means to be a gene,  Elizabeth Pennisi,SCIENCE, vol. 316, p. 1556, 15 June 2007).  There is vastly more to life, and to heredity, than genes.  This has long been known (see the OAIU book for discussion and references), but not widely enough.