Monday, September 28, 2009

Entanglement explained

Most popular explanations of quantum entanglement will describe it as a mysterious connection between particles. It's "spooky action at a distance", to quote Einstein. However, it is my firm opinion that mysteriousness and spookiness should not be excuses to stop explaining things. It should not surprise you to know that physicists understand quantum entanglement a lot better than they let on. It's just that it's rather mathematically involved, and therefore difficult to explain to popular audiences. Lucky for you, I enjoy attempting such futile tasks.

Let us build entanglement from the ground up, starting with wavefunctions. Here is an example of a wavefunction:

The wavefunction is just some abstract mathematical object which can be used to describe the particle. If you square the wavefunction, like this...
...then you get the probability of finding the particle at different locations. The particle is most likely to be found in that big hump in the middle, but there's also a chance that it will be found on either of the humps on the left or the right. There's also a very small chance that it will be found much further away from the center.

Another thing you can tell by looking at the wavefunction is the particle's momentum (mass times velocity). The momentum of the particle is related to how wavy the wavefunction is. For instance, if the wavefunction looked like this...
...then the particle will have a much higher momentum than in the first wavefunction. If you try to measure the particle's velocity, it will probably be moving very quickly either to the right or to the left.

But particles don't just move to the right and left. They can go right, left, forward, backwards, up, and down. We live in a three-dimensional world. The above wavefunctions only show one of those dimensions. Here is an example of a two-dimensional wavefunction:

What does this wavefunction tell you? If you try to measure the Y position of the particle, it will appear near the center. However, the X position of the particle is a bit more uncertain. It will either appear to the right, in the valley, or to the left, on the hill.

But "left" and "right" are relative. If we just turn around 180 degrees, left becomes right, and right becomes left. If we turn around 90 degrees, the X and Y coordinates switch places. And if we turn 45 degrees...

...we get this.

Let's say we tried to measure the Y position of the particle, and got something to the left of center, right where that big hill is. Then we already know that the X position will probably be to the left of center too, before we directly measure it. And if we found that the Y position was to the right of center, we could predict that the X position would also be to the right of center. The X and Y coordinates of the particle are correlated. I might even say that the X and Y coordinates have a "mysterious connection" between them.

What makes this mysterious correlation so special? Why do we need to say that the particle is in both places at once? Couldn't we just say that we don't know its precise location? Couldn't we just say that there's a chance that both X and Y are right of center, and a chance that they're both left of center? The answer is no. The particle is in both locations at once, until we measure it. Recall that the momentum of the particle is described by the waviness of the wavefunction. If the particle were only in one of the two locations, that would affect its waviness, so to speak, thus affecting its momentum.

That's the basic idea of how we add new dimensions to quantum mechanics. We take what's called the Cartesian product of the X axis and the Y axis, and we get the X-Y plane. We can take another Cartesian product with the Z axis to make it three dimensional.

When we look at a quantum mechanical system with two particles, it is not described with two separate wavefunctions. There is always only one wavefunction. Instead, we take the Cartesian Product of the two particles' positions, like so.

Notice that the positions of the two particles are now mysteriously correlated. This may occur even if the particles are very far away from each other. By measuring one particle, we instantly get information about the other particle, even if it's light-years away. But before we take any measurements, both particles are in both locations.

Of course, each particle really requires not one, but three dimensions to describe its position. So for two particles, we really need six dimensions to describe them both. If we have three particles, we need a 9-dimensional space. If we have thousand particles, we need a 3000-dimensional space. In principle, the entire universe would be described with a single wavefunction with an absurdly huge number of dimensions.

And that's not even including non-spatial dimensions, which also have to be multiplied in. Non-spatial dimensions include spin and polarization. In fact, most popular explanations of quantum entanglement start out with correlations of polarization between two photons. It's the same idea, really. The main difference is that there are only two polarizations (horizontal and vertical), but there are an infinite number of positions (ie 1, 1/100, pi, 42). That makes it much easier to analyze and study under controlled conditions.

Let's take a step back and see what happened here. If we have a multi-dimensional wavefunction, the different dimensions can be correlated with each other. Adding new particles is just a matter of adding new dimensions to the wavefunction. Therefore, separate particles, too, can be correlated with each other. These correlations can extend across large distances. Measuring a particle here can instantly and indirectly measure a particle on the other side of the galaxy. It's almost, but not quite, as if you received a message from the other side of the galaxy at a speed far faster than light. The consequences of entanglement, even I'll admit, are quite profound and mysterious. But where entanglement came from is not mysterious. It was just quietly encoded in the math all along.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Two Fillomino puzzles

Now for something a little different. I usually post free-form word puzzles, but there's a much more popular class of puzzles which includes things like crosswords and Sudoku. I am against Sudoku on principle, but there are other kinds, such as Fillomino, which are very good.

1. Divide the grid into polyominoes that satisfy the following rules.
2. Every number in the grid must be contained in a polyomino containing that quantity of squares.
3. No two polyominoes containing the same quantity of squares may share an edge. (If every square were numbered according to the quantity of squares in its corresponding polyomino, no two identical numbers will ever be on opposite sides of an edge.)
4. A polyomino may contain one, more than one, or none of the numbers originally given.
The puzzle and instructions were swiped from A Cleverly-Titled Logic Puzzle Blog (which I highly recommend), but Fillomino itself was created by Nikoli.

So long story short, I wrote one of these Fillomino puzzles and it's hosted on the aforementioned blog. It's, uh, probably a bit too difficult, given that I just introduced Fillomino above. But I like it, so here it is.

If you need hints, or have comments or solutions, you may send any images to me at skepticsplay at gmail dot com.

Solutions to these puzzles will not be posted on the blog later.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Caveman Science Fiction

I love this comic from Dresden Codak. See the rest of Caveman Science Fiction.

It's a wonderful demonstration of the argument from fiction: If it's true in fiction, it must be true in real life too. The argument from fiction isn't just fallacious when applied to facts, but also when applied to moral lessons.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Homosexuality: not a choice

In my ongoing quest to blog more often about LGBT issues, allow me to cover a bit of gay 101: Homosexuality is not a choice.

In fact I find it really hard to imagine choosing homosexuality. Do you ever look at people, and say to yourself, "I want to be attracted to this person"? I've tried that, it doesn't work. Who you're attracted to isn't something you pick out, it's something that just is. At the very least, we know for sure that it isn't a direct choice. If it were easy to choose one way or another, I think far more people would be heterosexual. At first, most gay people experience a lot of distress due to social ostracizing and homophobia. So if it were so easy to choose, most people would go down the easy path and make themselves heterosexual. This does not happen.

In fact, there appears to be a genetic component to it. I'm not very familiar with the long and complicated science of the causes of homosexuality, but I've gotten the impression that genetics and prenatal conditions play a big role. I've heard that homosexuality is correlated with left-handedness (which, incidentally, has also been historically discriminated against). And for men, it also correlates strongly with the number of older brothers. These are things which are decided before you're born, so they obviously can't be the result of a conscious choice.

But the evidence is somewhat mixed and inconclusive. I certainly do not take it as an article of faith that homosexuality is genetic. I am not a genetic determinist. But that still doesn't necessarily make it a choice. It could just be random, or determined by indiscernible factors, or determined by uncontrollable factors. There isn't always a nice chain from cause to effect (ie genes --> gay). It's usually much, much more complicated than that, making it essentially appear random.

Perhaps homosexuality could be an indirect choice? Perhaps there is something we can do to affect it? Perhaps so, but we have no idea what that something is. That something may just as easily make a person more gay or less gay, or its effect may differ from person to person. Or it will do nothing at all. As an analogy, imagine you're on a game show, and you have to open one of three doors. One of the doors has a fancy car behind it, and the other two have goats. You get to choose which door to open, but it's not much of a choice is it? Without knowledge of what's behind each door, without knowledge of the consequences, you can't really call it a choice.

But there's another important point to be made here. Even if it were a choice, so what? That doesn't make it wrong. I'm no ethicist, but I understand that moral culpability requires two things: the choice must be conscious, and evil. In fact, part of being gay is a conscious choice: sexual identity and sexual behavior. But it's hard to see these as being evil choices. For sexual identity, it is my belief that identity should be accurate and reality-based. By that standard, identifying as gay when you're gay is the right choice, and denying it is the evil choice.

As for sexual behavior, I fail to see how having a same-sex relationship is evil. Refusing to pursue such a thing when you want it is like hitting yourself with a mallet. I have no problem with celibate gays; I think people have their reasons. But it's not what I'd call an admirable choice. Now, sexual promiscuity is less straightforward, but that's not what I'd call homosexual behavior, it's what I'd call promiscuous behavior. That's a whole 'nother topic, which I'm unlikely to cover.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Knights and Knaves solutions

See the original puzzles

Classic #1:

"Which way to your village?" Take that path.

Classic #2:

"Which way would your sister say is the way out?" Take the other path.

I suppose for either of these classics, you could simply ask, "What you say if I asked you which is the right way?" But that's not as clever IMO.

Bonus Problem:

This one involves some complicated reasoning. I'm going to break it down into steps.
  1. I look at the pointing fingers, and there is not a single person who is certainly a knight or certainly a knave. But I do know there is at least one knight at the table.
  2. Consider a single person. Given my current knowledge, it is possible that he is a knight.
  3. If that person is a knight, then he is pointing to the next knight on his left, who is pointing to the next knight on his left, and so on, until we complete the loop of knights around the table.
  4. Each person at the table must be part of exactly one such loop.
  5. Because I could determine how many knights are at the table in total, then all possible loops must have the same number of people.
  6. There are 25 people at the table. 25 is the product of the number of loops by the number of people in each loop.
  7. Because no one pointed to themselves, the loops must have more than one person each.
  8. You can't just have one loop which includes everyone at the table, since then I would know for sure that everyone is a knight.
  9. Therefore, there are five loops of five each. One of those loops consists of knights, while the others consist of knaves. There are five knights total.
I thought it was pretty clever problem myself. I'm happy I can write these fiendishly difficult problems and still have them solved by one or two readers out there.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Atheism: not a religion

One of the easiest pieces of anti-atheist rhetoric to come by: "Atheism is just another religion". It's a very clichéd argument. I can't tell if people are just repeating arguments they've heard before, or if people independently come up with it. I wonder if people think themselves terribly clever, essentially arguing, "I know you are, but what am I?" Since it's so common, atheists have come up with a bunch of silly counter-clichés. "Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color." "Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby." I hate these. It's not so much that I don't like clichés. I hate cliché arguments, because they suggest that the person has not really thought about the inner mechanics of the argument.

"Atheism is just another religion" is just so overwhelmingly wrong, it's hard to counter one stupidity without implicitly accepting another stupidity. I could start with, "So what if it's a religion?" but that would nearly suggest that I think atheism is a religion and that's okay. I could start with, "Atheism is totally not a religion," but that would nearly suggest that I think all religion is automatically bad.

I'll start with "So what if it's a religion?" Just imagine if atheists argued that Christianity is wrong because "it's just another religion." Or if we argued that Buddhism is wrong because, "it's just another religion." We would be immediately and justifiably dismissed. No, the arguments we make are about how the beliefs are either contrary to reality or contrary to good reasoning. These beliefs, no matter how metaphorical or immaterial they are made out to be, often lead to real harm. We can also talk about specific instances of corruption or abuse within religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church's failure to punish sex abuse cases in their priesthood.

But while I think many religions are bad, that does not mean I think that all religions need to be bad. Just because you have a belief doesn't mean it is wrong, nor does it mean that it will lead to harm. Religious communities need not have scandal. It depends on the community. In fact, I'm a social person, I think communities are a good thing, possibly one of religion's only redeeming features.

As a real-world example of a religion I have no problem with, take the Unitarian-Universalist church. Unitarian-Universalists have diverse beliefs, and I probably disagree with a lot of individuals, but I have no dispute with the group as a whole. Note that some Unitarian-Universalists are atheists. So you could in fact say that those atheists have a religion. But their religion is not atheism, it's Unitarian-Universalism.

I'm not really offended at the suggestion that I might have a religion. So what? But at the same time, I find the argument offensive in precisely the same sense that profound ignorance is offensive. Because it's just factually wrong.

When I took an intro course on the history of religion some time ago, I learned that religion is actually a very tricky thing to define. How do you construct a definition that includes everything from Judaism to Taoism, but excludes things like football? But pretty much no matter how you slice it, atheism is hardly a religion. The mere lack of belief in a god is too meager to be a belief system in itself. Even if you consider naturalism, a larger belief system, it's hardly what I'd call a guidebook to your daily life. Humanism might be a little closer to qualifying, but that's another story.

The other major component of religion, an organized community, is also rather lacking. There are atheist organizations to be sure, but I would call it more of a movement than a community. Another interesting thing to note is that before atheism achieved its current level of visibility, many atheists figured out atheism independently, without contact with any community. You could have a single atheist in a small village who has never met or heard of a single person like themself. I don't think this is true of any religion.

But of course, there's much more to religion than just a belief system and a community. There's also ritual, spirituality, giving yourself up to some divine being who loves you. I briefly discussed different ways of being religious over a year ago. Atheists tend to focus mostly on the beliefs and communities of religions, because those are the most deserving of criticism. But I feel very indifferent towards such religious things as ritual and spirituality. Some atheists may seek these out, but it's rarely atheism itself which provides it. And that's fine, because atheism is not a religion and need not fulfill every function of religion all on its own.

But I think a lot of people just don't care about serious definitions of religion. They just want to say that atheism is a religion in a much weaker sense. They just want to say that atheists believe things! And they have groups who like to do stuff! So what? I don't think it's necessarily bad to literally be religious, why would I worry about metaphorically being religious?

I will conclude by noting that atheism is in fact a category of views on religion. Atheists believe that theistic religions are incorrect. Therefore, if someone asks for my views on religion, I can say "atheist". When it's said that atheism is a religion for legal purposes, I take that to mean that atheism is another category of views on religion, equal to any other under the law. Our laws provide certain rights to people of all different views on religion, so I expect those rights to extend to atheists too. I do not believe that this means that atheism is actually a religion.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In the upcoming year...

...I am going to be president of BASS, the Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists. Add that to the list of things I intend to blog about more in the future. BASS is a student group at UCLA which advocates skepticism and secularism. Note that it does not have "atheism" in the name, but certainly atheists tend to be the most enthusiastic and activistic supporters of both skepticism and secularism. And since there's no other atheist/agnostic group on campus (excluding the Objectivist club), we're happy to fill that needed role, while at the same time accepting all supporters of skepticism and secularism.

So, funny thing, I don't actually know how to act as president. I have been asking the former presidents for tips, but I never get as much information as I'd like. Luckily, they're still around to advise. I guess we'll see how that goes!

I think the idea was that, even though I have little experience, I have somehow gained a reputation for being very reliable. I have anti-ADD, an uncanny ability to un-derail conversations. I should be able to assemble a set of officers who know what they're doing, and I'll be the cruel taskmaster who keeps them all focused. It's a contrast with former president Roy, who has lots of experience and major skeptical connections, but whose unreliability is a running joke. We still love him, of course. (Disregard the plans for "I hate Roy" t-shirts, with which Roy still hasn't followed through.)
My readers, have any of you participated in skeptical or atheist groups? How was your experience with it?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Women in skepticism

The recent buzz in the skeptosphere is about women in skepticism. It's discussed on Skepchick. The main issue is that there are disproportionately few women in the skeptical and atheist movements. That's a bit of a difficult statement to qualify, since I really do not think of the skeptical movement as a demographic; there's no hard line between skeptics and non-skeptics. But by any reasonable measure--the leaders in the movement, the prominent bloggers, the people who attend skeptical conferences--we know there's an issue.

It's worrying that just about every one of my interests is male dominated. Skepticism, atheism, physics, and I'm aware that even puzzling is male dominated. Nearly every blog on my blogroll is written by a guy. It's funny because I certainly don't think of any of these things as being particularly male interests. But as I understand it, that's all part of the male privilege, that it never becomes an issue. I can pursue whatever I want without worrying about whether I'm working against or inadvertently reinforcing stereotypes.

So why are these things male dominated? I don't presume to have any special insight on this. There could be lots of reasons, and I will leave speculation for another time. But as Greta Christina argues, no matter what the original reason for the inequality, it's something which tends to self-perpetuate. Even if there is no outright sexism, women look at all the predominantly male leaders and become discouraged. And if there are more men than women, the group will more frequently focus on issues that interest the men more than women. So even while it may not be anyone's fault, it is still our responsibility to actively take steps to change it. Greta says the same thing goes for ethnic minorities, which is another thing lacking in the skeptical community.

As a specific example, consider Hemant Mehta's list of tips to meet atheist women. He corresponded with several women to compile the list, and he later gave it as a talk to the Secular Student Alliance. Not that it was a bad topic, but that's something which obviously applies mostly to heterosexual men. Hemant later tried the something similar for heterosexual women, but he only went so far as to ask for suggestions in the comments. And some of that advice looks pretty suspect.

Greta went on to suggested several such active steps, and I'll focus on the ones which are most relevant to me as a blogger. For instance, she suggested more linking, citing, and blogrolling of female and ethnic minority bloggers. Actually, I think that's a very difficult thing to ask. Quite simply, I don't read many bloggers who qualify. Picking out a blog to read is fraught with all sorts of concerns, like how much I agree with the blogger, whether I like their writing style, whether I like their subject matter, and so forth. Case in point, I used to read Skepchick, and I think they're great. But there were just too many fluff posts (ie link lists) for my taste, so I stopped reading. When picking out blogs, even little things like that will trump the matter of whether they offer a feminist perspective, as much as I would like that. So I end up with a blogroll with I think one brown guy and two or three women. It's all part of that self-perpetuating cycle, and this is not an easy point of the cycle to break.

Perhaps an easier way, is to put special effort to put some focus on issues that interest skeptical women. Here we have another obstacle: I don't necessarily know what those issues are! Even if I do know about them, I'm going to have an outside perspective which may not be particularly insightful. For example, I often hear discussions about the stereotype that smarter girls are less attractive. There's a lot of back and forth with some people saying, "That stereotype is so wrong and offensive," and others saying "Why does it matter so much how attractive I am?" and so on. Is there really any insight I could offer to this issue? I just don't care who's attractive and who's not.

So, ignoring the above extensive essay, I just don't know what to say. I don't know that there's a whole lot I can do, though I will continue to search for ways. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The future of physics

My grandfather sometimes tells me that in my lifetime, I will be shocked by the many changes in the world and changes in science. To some extent I believe this. Cultural, political, and technological changes are quite swift, with a characteristic time scale on the order of a decade. I will probably live through several of these decades.

But I'm not much of a futurist. For instance, I don't really hold with the idea of a technological singularity. The faster things change, the more likely it is that things will change into something that doesn't change quite so quickly.

And in my specific field, physics, I don't think we're going to have a major revolution after revolution, indefinitely.

That's a rather vague and unfalsifiable statement. No matter how many revolutions I witness, I would never be shown to be wrong. And as all you skeptics know, unfalsifiable statements are on the useless end of things. So allow me to put forth a much stronger statement. We will never again, not in a million years, have another physics revolution which quite rivals the one we had at the beginning of the 20th century. That was when the foundations were laid for Relativity theory and Quantum theory.

It's not because I think we already figured out all the fundamental laws of physics. I don't even think we've figured out most of them. But it's a question of applicability.

Applicability is another important concept that every physicist should understand. When we consider some physical problem, we don't just blindly apply all the known laws of physics and see what rolls out. That would be far too difficult. Instead, we selectively apply laws which are appropriate to the realm under consideration. If we're talking roller coasters, we use classical mechanics. If we're talking two orbiting black holes, we use General Relativity. If we're talking atoms and molecules, we use quantum mechanics and hell, even chemistry.

And within each of these theories, we can divide it up further. For example, when the two orbiting black holes are moving slowly enough, we can use the Post-Newtonian Approximation of General Relativity. If the roller coaster is much smaller than the earth, we can assume that gravity is constant, even though it's not. If you want to know an electron's ground state to only a few digits of accuracy, you can ignore relativistic corrections. Every good physical theory and approximation predicts its own applicability conditions. Given any desired level of accuracy, we can predict when it is acceptable to use an approximation, and when it is necessary to consider another theory.

So what happens if we slowly gather evidence and confirm, say, String Theory? What are its applicability conditions? As the joke goes, the reason we've spent billions of dollars building huge particle accelerators is so that physicists can determine what happens when a multi-billion-dollar device accelerates and collides particles. Of course, the joke isn't strictly fair, because the theory of everything will also be important to cosmology, astronomy, and who knows what else. But I don't think it would be quite as revolutionary as Relativity or Quantum Mechanics, simply because the applicability conditions will not be nearly as far-reaching. See, if the applicability conditions were so great, we would have already tested it with cheaper experiments.

My basic point was echoed by Feynman (lecture 7, 52:10 mark). Feynman didn't make as strong a statement as I did, but he says that he doesn't think that theoretical physics can just go on and on indefinitely. Either it will reach some end point where we know everything, or it will become progressively harder and less interesting. That is to say, the applicability conditions will cover a smaller and smaller range of reality. The limited applicability implies that there is a very limited set of experiments (read: very expensive) which can discover and test the theory. As they get more expensive, progress will slow down or halt, not accelerate. This may very well be the endgame of physics.

Happily, the applicability condition of my argument is only in fundamental theoretical physics. There's a lot more to physics than that. If you thought first-year physics is hard, just remember that they usually only give the physics problems which are easily solvable. If you add only a few more complications to the system, it quickly becomes very difficult, as in, impossible to solve exactly. Gosh, even something as simple and clockwork as our planetary system requires some serious study to understand fully. Physicists aren't going to be out of research material for a long time.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Liberal bias in scientists

In the Science magazine, there was a report which showed selected results from a Pew survey. Newsflash! Scientists are more liberal than the general public!

Actually, based on personal experience, this isn't remotely surprising. I can tell just from the popular science media that I read. And of the science professors who have expressed anything vaguely political, they tend to be either liberal or flamingly liberal. It could be that the conservative scientists just keep quieter than the liberal ones do, but hey, here we got a survey! The survey shows that, no really, there aren't many conservative scientists.

What do we make of this? I suppose it depends whether you want to put a liberal or conservative spin on it.

A liberal spin: Reality has a well known liberal bias. Also, the Republican party has so many anti-science elements, I, for one, would have serious qualms about supporting them. The biggest ones off the top of my head are Creationism, anthropogenic global warming denialism, and abstinence-only education. And then there are lot of smaller issues, and ones which are only indirectly related to science. What anti-science elements do liberals have? There's alternative medicine, but that group is not so clearly associated with the Democrat party.

A conservative spin: I suppose the conservative person could frame it as a matter of economic self-interest. Scientists are frequently funded by the government, so of course they want to increase government spending. Indeed, I would be unsurprised if scientists working for private industries were on average more conservative than scientists working for government funding. The conservative might go on to say that these economic concerns have caused science to be biased. Therefore, Republicans are somewhat justified in doubting scientists.

If you want my opinion, I think the economic self-interest is a big part of it, but it's justified. Science is one of those common goods, the sort of thing that really does need government spending. Education, too. Contrast with engineers who tend to be on the conservative side. Engineers often work for big corporations, the kinds which benefit from a freer market. My own half-baked political opinion is, they're both right! Our economic policies should be liberal when it comes to science, education, and environment, but conservative when it comes to most everything else.

Wait, you wanted supporting arguments too? And this is why I usually keep my blog out of politics.

From the same poll, here's another comparison.

First, note that this does not show that 56% of scientists are liberal, and 2% are conservative. Rather, it shows that 56% of scientists think scientists are liberal, and 2% of scientists think scientists are conservative. Based on the pie chart, it seems to me that scientists really are generally liberal. So one way to read the pie chart: 80% of the public is wrong about scientists, while only 44% of scientists are wrong about scientists.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it. Surveys!

Another way to read it: The public trusts scientists because they believe scientists are politically neutral. In fact, scientists are not politically neutral. Therefore, the public should place slightly less trust in scientists.

How I read it: The public trusts scientists because they believe scientists are politically neutral. But they misunderstand! The reason science is trustworthy has little to do with the neutrality of scientists, and everything to do with the objectivity of the method. If you do the science correctly, it doesn't matter whether you are liberal or conservative, you should get the same results. Therefore, the public should continue to trust scientists, but for different reasons.

Of course, science isn't always done perfectly, and there are a lot of interpretive elements involved. As a result, bias among scientists can sometimes translate to bias in science. However, simply pointing out the personal biases of the scientists is by no means a complete criticism. You also need to point out the flaws in the method. And you can point out methodological flaws no matter what part of the political spectrum you come from.

(Via The Thinker, via Overcoming Bias)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mostly on Maine

Though I have always been highly supportive of queers and queer rights, I'm not necessarily any more educated on the issue than the next godless college student. And I've largely left the topic alone on my blog, the same way I have with politics. I would like to change this. I am serious. Next year, I fully intend to join, as an ally, an LGBT student group, see how that goes.

And I want to blog about it too. Trouble is, it's not immediately obvious what to blog about. How about some news? News is easy.

So, Maine! Maine right now is in a very similar situation to California last year. Last year, same-sex marriage was briefly legal here in California, but by passing prop 8, it was made illegal again. I'm still bitter about it.

In Maine, the legislature voted to allow same-sex marriage. But if voters pass proposition 1 next November, then same-sex marriage will be made illegal again. Readers, please make sure to vote NO on prop 1 in Maine. If Maine turns down prop 1 and allows same-sex marriage, we in California will be totally jealous. In a good way, of course. We will love you, and want to be you.

Which brings me to one of the reasons why it's so important. Maine is setting a precedent for other states to follow. If Maine legalizes same-sex marriage, it will be the fifth state to do so. There's still 45 more to go. When we talk about social progress, it isn't something which just happens naturally, generation by generation. It's something we make happen, by fighting every step of the way.

Greta got me all pumped about Maine, but I live in California, the loser state. And I probably have about one reader who can vote in Maine. Whatever! If you don't live in Maine, you can still give your moral and/or financial support.

In slightly older news, the American Psychological Association (APA) strongly recommended against the use of conversion therapy, which is therapy intended to turn gay people straight. Actually, I was under the impression that the APA was already unfriendly to conversion therapy previously, but here we have an entire report on the subject. The report says that conversion therapy is not only ineffective, but can be harmful, causing depression and suicide attempts.

NARTH contends that the APA report was biased, since it excluded several papers which supported conversion therapy. The opposite is true. The APA defined the criteria for an acceptable scientific study before looking at the results. That's the sort of scientific procedure which warms my heart. NARTH's own report, on the other hand, selectively included studies which supported conversion therapy.

If gays could undergo therapy to become straight, I'm not quite sure if that would be good or bad. But that's besides the point, because conversion therapy is ineffective. It's alternative medicine meets homophobia, basically (though it's typically supported by people on the opposite side of the political spectrum). They might as well be "treating" homosexuality by hovering their hands over their skin, trying to manipulate their bio-energetic fields.