Linkfest 2017-06-09

I love the movie Cars, and I am very excited about Cars 3, which looks less like a cashing-in on the initial success of the first movie sequel [you gotta pay for studios somehow] and more like a real Pixar-worthy sequel with better animation technology.

This post is nearly ten years old now, and I think still pertinent. 

I didn't learn anything new here, but I've got a better memory and a deeper interest in history than the average American. The thing that gets me is no historical figure can stand this kind of scrutiny. For example, here is Lincoln debating with Stephen Douglas. This is the argument of the Progressive Left, that no one before the present is redeemable in any way, but it surprises me when less radical people advocate for ideas that destroy their own position.

Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska act at Peoria, Illinois

Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska act at Peoria, Illinois

It has been a while since I posted something about statistical software and graphs, so here you go!

An article attempting to link the Younger Dryas with Göbekli Tepe. I lack subject matter knowledge, but this is an interesting idea. Greg Cochran thinks the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis is bunk.

David Warren argues for the return of unsafe spaces at universities [with tobacco!]. 

I think I started reading David Warren about the same time I started reading John. J. Reilly, shortly after 9/11. He wrote a column for the Ottowa Citizen at the time, and his beat was terrorism.

Warren was better suited than most. He had been to Afghanistan in his salad days. He ended up a big supporter of George W. Bush and of the War in Iraq as a clash of civilizations. Warren spent quite a bit of time in the wilderness repenting of his sins following 9/11, and I still occasionally read his essays.

Answer: somewhat.

I've never felt like the Hobbit was a kid's book, but I have friends who feel otherwise.

The Long View: The End of The World Book Review

John wrote a lot of book reviews. I based my own book reviews on what he did on his own site. This is one of his earliest, written in 1998. The influence was really all one way [from John to me], but you can see that we had lots of interests in common. For example, this bit of his review:

The Carter-Leslie Doomsday Argument makes most sense if you make some factual assumptions. First, you should assume that the number of people who will have ever lived will be finite. (This is reasonable but not inevitable: there are cosmological theories which make an infinity of future human beings a possibility, or even a necessity.) Second, you should assume that human population tends to increase geometrically over time, so that a historical graph of world population produces a Malthusian slope. Third, you should assume that the world is totally or substantially deterministic, so that events in the past have reasonably reliable implications for what happens in the future.

John was interested in science, but being a philosophically inclined lawyer, I mostly observed him to reason with words and concepts. One of the things I appreciate most about my education is that I learned to think visually, mathematically, and verbally. This was a happy accident, since I was the physics nerd who liked speech and debate.

Thus, when I see that Leslie assumed that human population increases geometrically, I think: no it doesn't, most animal populations, humans included, increase logistically. And then I plot it. Exponential curves look a hell of a lot like exponentials at the beginning, especially when you take into account random noise, but in the long run they look a lot different.

Logistic Curve vs Exponential CurveOn the other hand, I think John was a better prose stylist than me, and his writing was more engaging. So maybe he was on to something.


The End of the World:
The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction
by John Leslie
Routledge, 1996
310 pages, $28:00 (Hardcover)
$16.99 (Paperback)
ISBN: 0-415-14043-9



This book explains the Carter-Leslie Doomsday Argument, which purports to offer sound mathematical reasons for supposing that the human race will become extinct in a century or two. The Argument evolved dialectically:

[Thesis] In the beginning of modern science was the Copernican Principle, which counsels that observers should be skeptical of claims that they are observing from a privileged position. Thus, though the sun and stars may appear to revolve around the Earth, think twice before you decide you are at the center of the universe.

[Antithesis] By the last quarter of the twentieth century, many scientists had nevertheless concluded that we were in fact living in a privileged world. Our universe is governed by a small set of physical constants, whose values appear to be arbitrary. Almost all values for those numbers would produce universes of nothing but black holes or radiation. Only one set of numbers (within very narrow limits) produces stars and chemistry and biology, and that is the set we have. Similarly, there was thought to be some reason for supposing that the appearance of intelligent life on Earth was the outcome of a series of vanishingly improbable accidents. Yet, here we are, worrying about it. Brandon Carter, the Cambridge mathematician, coined the term "the Anthropic Principle" to describe the qualification of the Copernican Principle that the unlikely nature of our world seemed to require. The Principle states that an observer (such as the human race collectively) should not be surprised to be living in an improbable situation, if that is the sort of situation in which the observer was most likely to have existed.

[Synthesis] The problem with improbable situations is that they are also likely to be ephemeral. Let us leave aside the question of whether the physical constants can change over time in such a way as to make life impossible (it is not completely certain that they cannot). More prosaically, it is possible to look on the evolution of the biosphere and of the human race within it as a series of one potentially lethal disaster after another, each survived by pure chance. The Anthropic Principle may explain why we observe such an unlikely world, but it offers no promise that this unlikely situation will continue. There are several versions of the Doomsday Argument, but they all seem to be reassertions of the Copernican Principle. In this context, that means that our unlikely world should turn into the more probable sort of world that has no people in it. Something they also all have in common, when they are given mathematical expression, is that they hint at Doom Soon.



Stats Package Comparison

A fun post exploring the differences between a number of statistical computation packages. As one of the commenters said, this is an awesome flame war! The comments are very informative, with all sorts of historical information explaining how and why certain packages turned out the way they are. I use JMP at work, which is owned by SAS, but is not near as common as these other packages. JMP is pretty easy to use, and looks good, which is its major selling point. I find that I often with other programs were as good at making and analyzing graphs as JMP is. JMP is excellent for exploratory data analysis. However, it is less powerful than most of the packages analyzed in the post, so it will probably remain a smaller player.

h/t John D. Cook

R Tips and Tricks

My practice with R has been slow of late, but I have put up some R snippets, mostly as a reminder to myself. Here are 5 sites that have R tips, tricks, and easy explanations. I find that the documentation linked on the R project website to be less than useful if you just want to say, know how to make a log plot. These sites are better for that kind of thing.

Useful Functions and Commands

Paul Johnson's R page

Li Chen's R page

Quantitative Ecology

One R Tip a Day