Friday, July 31, 2015

change the law: supremes made every citizen interaction with overseers a life or death gamble


theroot |  Around the world, experts (as expected) are clawing into every legal nook and cranny to ask one of the most pressing questions of 2015: Exactly how many rights do you have should you see the popo’s red and blue lights flashing in the rearview?

It’s not crystal clear. While we’d like to think we have enough constitutional armor to take on a trigger-snapping squad of Boss Hog’s finest, the unfortunate reality is that we don’t. Thanks to a permanently ideological Supreme Court dominated by conservative stalwarts, the cops have even more rights than you do.

And even in the post-Bland world, you should anticipate traffic stops getting worse, since the Supreme Court is usually unmoved by current events.

To most living through the social-media-magnified #BlackLivesMatter microscope, any notion of enhanced police power seems unreasonable and unfathomable. Which is why black folks, understandably, are pushing back. Yet even with increased smartphone surveillance and hourly scrutiny of police, law enforcement seems strangely emboldened ... and even dismissive.

Like the rest of us, Texas state Trooper Brian Encinia hadn’t been living in a bubble when he stopped Bland. Unless all he did was watch the Cartoon Network and read comic books on his downtime, Encinia had to have known that every random, modern traffic stop has the potential to carry heavy consequences.

More than likely he knew, thereby rendering hours of mandatory de-escalation training meaningless. But his failure to professionally deal with Bland also reflects something police culture gets that we haven’t fully grasped: that they’re already given quite a wide range of latitude to stop, search, seize and arrest.

Quite a few folks, including the Center for American Progress, have cited the Rodriguez v. United States (pdf) decision in April as good-enough reason that Bland should never have seen the inside of a jail. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, “The tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure’s ‘mission’—to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop, and attend to related safety concerns.”

In other words, since Bland didn’t represent any threat—she only failed to use a signal to change lanes and was understandably irritated at being stopped—there was no “mission” justifying any arrest in the first place.

But the problem here is that either Encinia didn’t get the memo on Rodriguez or he (as well as others) is getting mixed messages from a high court known for its scrabbled aloofness. Although Rodriguez may have resolved traffic-stop length of time, it didn’t address the much more consequential traffic-stop reasoning the same way a less-hyped Heien v. North Carolina (pdf) ruling did when it dropped last December.

Heien is like the legal Godzilla of bad cop excuses: An officer’s “mistake of law,” opined conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, can be constitutional so long as it’s all “reasonable.” In essence, it gives aggressive police officers the kind of legal elbow room they need for misconduct; or, as criminal-justice expert Lauren Kirchner explains, “[I]t essentially gives cops even more latitude than they already had, to stop whomever they want, for whatever pretext they claim.”

Heien also pretty much played backup to another little-known 1997 ruling called Maryland v. Wilson, in which the court agreed that officers can order passengers out of cars during any traffic stop, crime or no crime. Then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote at the time that “the same weighty interest in officer safety is present regardless of whether the occupant of the stopped car is a driver or passenger.”

overseer self-reporting of brutality an invitation to lying and sanitizing...,


HuffPo |  Few aspects of policing attract more scrutiny than an officer's use of force. And as people around the nation continue to voice concerns about the sometimes contentious relationship between citizens and law enforcement, it's become clear that police and the policed often have drastically different interpretations of the same incidents.

In some cases, this disagreement may stem from an honest difference of opinion. Police violence -- and violence in general -- typically looks repulsive, whether you're watching it unfold in person or on video. It regularly leads to questions about whether a situation truly called for the level of force used, and whether anyone's civil rights were violated in the process. But when the question of what's "excessive" is left to an internal review process that tends to give officers a great deal of leeway, what might appear improper to the average citizen is often found to be justified in the eyes of the law.

[This story includes videos that contain explicit language and graphic depictions of violence. They may be upsetting for some readers.]

A number of high-profile cases over the past few years suggest that something even more disturbing can happen when police are given the responsibility of self-reporting violence. The instances below offer clear evidence of cops -- and in some cases, their superiors -- attempting to sanitize, mischaracterize or simply lie about the use of force. They raise disquieting questions about what might have happened if videos of the incidents had never surfaced -- and how many similar incidents never become known to the public.

would you recognize this tatted, wifebeater-wearing pan-troglodyte as an overseer?


dailykos |  A YouTube user named "basedboston" uploaded a video recorded on July 26, 2015 (date on video is wrong) which shows Medford, Massachusetts Detective Stephen Lebert threatening to "blow a hole right through your fucking head" after he stopped "basedboston" over a traffic citation. 

The man had a dashcam in his car which records audio and video. He says he misread road signs and inadvertently went the wrong direction on a roundabout (or as they call them in the Boston-area, "rotaries"). Detective Lebert was not on duty and was wearing camouflage shorts and a white tank top. He cuts off the man's vehicle and jumps out to confront him. Having no idea the irate man was an off-duty police officer, the man puts the car in reverse to get away from the officer, who had not identified himself. Detective Lebert then threatens to "blow a hole right through your fucking head" and eventually pulls out his police identification.

Watch the terrifying confrontation (and the incredibly calm and professional reaction of other officers called to the scene):

Thursday, July 30, 2015

terrified to hear the truth, deuterostems ought not ask scary questions...,


thenation |   On April 18, scientists at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong, China, published an article in the obscure open-access journal Protein & Cell documenting their attempt at using an experimental new method of gene therapy on human embryos. Although the scientific significance of the results remains open to question, culturally the article is a landmark, for it has reanimated the age-old debate over human genetic improvement.

The Chinese scientists attempted to correct a mutation in the beta-globin gene, which encodes a crucial blood protein. Mutations in this gene lead to a variety of serious blood diseases. But the experiments failed. Although theoretically the new method, known as CRISPR (short for “clustered regularly spaced short palindromic repeats”) is extremely precise, in practice it often produces “off-target” mutations. In plain English, it makes a lot of changes in unintended locations, like what often happens when you hit “search/replace all” in a word-processing document. The principal conclusion from the paper is that the technique is still a long way from being reliable enough for the clinic. Nevertheless, the science media and pundits pounced on the story, and for a while “#CRISPR” was trending on Twitter. 

CRISPR is the fastest, easiest, and most promising of several new methods known collectively as “gene editing.” Using them, scientists can edit the individual letters of the DNA code, almost as easily as a copy editor would delete, a stray comma or correct a speling error. Advocates wax enthusiastic about its promise for correcting mutations for serious genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia. Other applications might include editing HIV out of someone’s genome or lowering genetic risks of heart disease or cancer. Indeed, every week brings new applications: CRISPR is turning out to be an extraordinarily versatile technique, applicable to many fields of biomedical research. I’m pretty immune to biomedical hype, but gene editing has the marks of a genuine watershed moment in biotechnology. Once the kinks are worked out, CRISPR seems likely to change the way biologists do experiments, much as the circular saw changed how carpenters built houses. 

The timing of the paper was provocative. It was submitted on March 30 and accepted on April 1; formal peer review was cursory at best. Two weeks before, scientists in the United States and Europe had called for a moratorium on experiments using CRISPR on human “germ-line” tissue (eggs, sperm, and embryos), which pass alterations on to one’s descendants, in contrast to the “somatic” cells that compose the rest of the body. The embryos in the Chinese experiments were not implanted and in fact could not have become humans: They were the unviable, discarded products of in vitro fertilization. Still, the paper was a sensational flouting of the Westerners’ call for restraint. It was hard not to read its publication as an East Asian Bronx cheer. 

The circumstances of the paper’s publication underline the fact that the core of the CRISPR debate is not about the technological challenge but the ethical one: that gene editing could enable a new eugenics, a eugenics of personal choice, in which humans guide their own evolution individually and in families. Commentators are lining up as conservatives and liberals on the issue. Conservatives, such as Jennifer Doudna (one of CRISPR’s inventors) and the Nobel laureates David Baltimore and Paul Berg, have called for cautious deliberation. They were among those who proposed the moratorium on using CRISPR on human embryos. “You could exert control over human heredity with this technique,” said Baltimore. George Q. Daley, of Boston Children’s Hospital, said that CRISPR raises the fundamental issue of whether we are willing to “take control of our genetic destiny.” Are we ready to edit our children’s genomes to perfection, as in the movie Gattaca? Could the government someday pass laws banning certain genetic constitutions or requiring others?

omic advantages come in discrete packages...,


spiegel |  SPIEGEL: Germans are traditionally scared of genetically modified organisms.
Church: But don't forget: The ones we are talking about won't be farm GMOs. These will be in containers, and so if there's a careful planning process, I would predict that Germany would be as good as any country at doing this. 

SPIEGEL: There has been a lot of fierce public opposition to genetic engineering in Germany. How do you experience this? Do you find it annoying? 

Church: Quite to the contrary. I personally think it has been fruitful. And I think there are relatively few examples in which such a debate has slowed down technology. I think we should be quite cautious, but that doesn't mean that we should put moratoriums on new technologies. It means licensing, surveillance, doing tests. And we actually must make sure the public is educated about them. It would be great if all the politicians in the world were as technologically savvy as the average citizen is politically savvy. 

SPIEGEL: Acceptance is highest for such technology when it is first applied in the medical industry ...
Church: … yes, and the potential of synthetic life is particularly large in pharmaceuticals. The days of classic, small molecule drugs may be numbered. Actually, it is a miracle that they work in the first place. They kind of dose your whole body. They cross-react with other molecules. Now, we are getting better and better at programming cells. So I think cell therapies are going to be the next big thing. If you engineer genomes and cells, you have an incredible amount of sophistication. If you take AIDS virus as an example ...

SPIEGEL: ... a disease you also want to beat with cell therapy? 

Church: Yes. All you have to do is take your blood cell precursors out of your body, reengineer them using gene therapy to knock out both copies of your CCR5 gene, which is the AIDS receptor, and then put them back in your body. Then you can't get AIDS any more, because the virus can't enter your cells.

SPIEGEL: Are we correct in assuming you wouldn't hesitate to use germ cell therapy, as well, if you could improve humans genetically in this way?

Church: Well, there are stem cell therapies already. There are hematopoietic stem cell transplants that are widely practiced, and skin stem cell transplants. Once you have enough experience with these techniques you can start talking about human cloning. One of the things to do is to engineer our cells so that they have a lower probability of cancer. And then once we have a lower probability of cancer, you can crank up their self-renewal properties, so that they have a lower probability of senescence. We have people who live to be 120 years old. What if we could all live 120 years? That might be considered desirable. 

SPIEGEL: But you haven't got any idea which genes to change in order to achieve that goal.

Church: In order to find out, we are now involved in sequencing as many people as possible who have lived for over 110 years. There are only 60 of those people in the world that we know of. 

SPIEGEL: Do you have any results already? 

Church: It's too early to say. But we collected the DNA of about 20 of them, and the analysis is just beginning. 

SPIEGEL: You expect them all to have the same mutation that guarantees longevity?

Church: That is one possibility. The other possibility is that they each have their own little advantage over everybody else.

dna is the construction material of the future


spiegel |  George Church, 58, is a pioneer in synthetic biology, a field whose aim is to create synthetic DNA and organisms in the laboratory. During the 1980s, the Harvard University professor of genetics helped initiate the Human Genome Project that created a map of the human genome. In addition to his current work in developing accelerated procedures for sequencing and synthesizing DNA, he has also been involved in the establishing of around two dozen biotech firms. In his new book, "Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves," which he has also encoded as strands of DNA and distributed on small DNA chips, Church sketches out a story of a second, man-made Creation.

SPIEGEL recently sat down with Church to discuss his new tome and the prospects for using synthetic biology to bring the Neanderthal back from exctinction as well as the idea of making humans resistant to all viruses.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Church, you predict that it will soon be possible to clone Neanderthals. What do you mean by "soon"? Will you witness the birth of a Neanderthal baby in your lifetime? 

Church: I think so, but boy there are a lot of parts to that. The reason I would consider it a possibility is that a bunch of technologies are developing faster than ever before. In particular, reading and writing DNA is now about a million times faster than seven or eight years ago. Another technology that the de-extinction of a Neanderthal would require is human cloning. We can clone all kinds of mammals, so it's very likely that we could clone a human. Why shouldn't we be able to do so? 

SPIEGEL: Perhaps because it is banned? 

Church: That may be true in Germany, but it's not banned all over the world. And laws can change, by the way. 

SPIEGEL: Would cloning a Neanderthal be a desirable thing to do? 

Church: Well, that's another thing. I tend to decide on what is desirable based on societal consensus. My role is to determine what's technologically feasible. All I can do is reduce the risk and increase the benefits. 

SPIEGEL: So let's talk about possible benefits of a Neanderthal in this world.

Church: Well, Neanderthals might think differently than we do. We know that they had a larger cranial size. They could even be more intelligent than us. When the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet or whatever, it's conceivable that their way of thinking could be beneficial.

can we understand evolution without symbiogenesis?


academia |  This work is a contribution to the literature and knowledge on evolution that takes into account the biological data obtained on symbiosis and sym-biogenesis. Evolution is traditionally considered a gradual process essentially consisting of natural selection, conducted on minimal phenotypical variations that are the result of mutations and genetic recombinations to form new spe-cies. However, the biological world presents and involves symbiotic associations between different organisms to form consortia, a new structural life dimension and a symbiont-induced speciation. The acknowledgment of this reality implies a new understanding of the natural world, in which symbiogenesis plays an important role as an evolutive mechanism. Within this understanding, symbiosis is the key to the acquisition of new genomes and new metabolic capacities, driving living forms’ evolution and the establishment of biodiversity and complexity on Earth. This chapter provides information on some of the key figures and their major works on symbiosis and symbiogenesis and reinforces the importance of these concepts in our understanding of the natural world and the role they play in the establishing of the evolutionary complexity of living systems. In this context, the concept of the symbiogenic superorganism is also discussed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

MUCH more concerned about overseer drones using racial facial recognition...,


fp |  The term “robotics revolution” evokes images of the future: a not-too-distant future, perhaps, but an era surely distinct from the present. In fact, that revolution is already well under way. Today, military robots appear on battlefields, drones fill the skies, driverless cars take to the roads, and “telepresence robots” allow people to manifest themselves halfway around the world from their actual location. But the exciting, even seductive appeal of these technological advances has overshadowed deep, sometimes uncomfortable questions about what increasing human-robot interaction will mean for society.

Robotic technologies that collect, interpret, and respond to massive amounts of real-world data on behalf of governments, corporations, and ordinary people will unquestionably advance human life. But they also have the potential to produce dystopian outcomes. We are hardly on the brink of the nightmarish futures conjured by Hollywood movies such as The Matrix or The Terminator, in which intelligent machines attempt to enslave or exterminate humans. But those dark fantasies contain a seed of truth: the robotic future will involve dramatic tradeoffs, some so significant that they could lead to a collective identity crisis over what it means to be human.

This is a familiar warning when it comes to technological innovations of all kinds. But there is a crucial distinction between what’s happening now and the last great breakthrough in robotic technology, when manufacturing automatons began to appear on factory floors during the late twentieth century. Back then, clear boundaries separated industrial robots from humans: protective fences isolated robot workspaces, ensuring minimal contact between man and machine, and humans and robots performed wholly distinct tasks without interacting.

Such barriers have been breached, not only in the workplace but also in the wider society: robots now share the formerly human-only commons, and humans will increasingly interact socially with a diverse ecosystem of robots. The trouble is that the rich traditions of moral thought that guide human relationships have no equivalent when it comes to robot-to-human interactions. And of course, robots themselves have no innate drive to avoid ethical transgressions regarding, say, privacy or the protection of human life. How robots interact with people depends to a great deal on how much their creators know or care about such issues, and robot creators tend to be engineers, programmers, and designers with little training in ethics, human rights, privacy, or security. In the United States, hardly any of the academic engineering programs that grant degrees in robotics require the in-depth study of such fields.

awesome tools, bring about great change, but in the hands of peasants...,


ted |  The world is becoming increasingly open, and that has implications both bright and dangerous. Marc Goodman paints a portrait of a grave future, in which technology's rapid development could allow crime to take a turn for the worse. 

I study the future of crime and terrorism, and frankly, I'm afraid. I'm afraid by what I see. I sincerely want to believe that technology can bring us the techno-utopia that we've been promised, but, you see, I've spent a career in law enforcement, and that's informed my perspective on things.

I've been a street police officer, an undercover investigator, a counter-terrorism strategist, and I've worked in more than 70 countries around the world. I've had to see more than my fair share of violence and the darker underbelly of society, and that's informed my opinions. My work with criminals and terrorists has actually been highly educational. They have taught me a lot, and I'd like to be able to share some of these observations with you.
 
1:07 Today I'm going to show you the flip side of all those technologies that we marvel at, the ones that we love. In the hands of the TED community, these are awesome tools which will bring about great change for our world, but in the hands of suicide bombers, the future can look quite different.
1:30 I started observing technology and how criminals were using it as a young patrol officer. In those days, this was the height of technology. Laugh though you will, all the drug dealers and gang members with whom I dealt had one of these long before any police officer I knew did.
 
1:49 Twenty years later, criminals are still using mobile phones, but they're also building their own mobile phone networks, like this one, which has been deployed in all 31 states of Mexico by the narcos. They have a national encrypted radio communications system. Think about that. Think about the innovation that went into that. Think about the infrastructure to build it. And then think about this: Why can't I get a cell phone signal in San Francisco? (Laughter) How is this possible? (Laughter) It makes no sense. (Applause)
 
2:29 We consistently underestimate what criminals and terrorists can do. Technology has made our world increasingly open, and for the most part, that's great, but all of this openness may have unintended consequences.

of course no laws were broken (except the "peasant, play at your level"! law protocol....,)


courant |  With the viral video of a gun-firing drone making national headlines, Connecticut advocates are re-energized to pass a law next year that would ban such weapons.

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill this year that would have banned weapons on drones used by both the police and the general public. But the bill never came to a vote in the state House of Representatives as time ran out in the legislative session. Advocates say it will be a top priority when the new legislative session begins in February.

Lawmakers have been studying the issue for the past two years, including forming a task force to better understand the new technology.

The latest interest spiked when 18-year-old Austin Haughwout of Clinton released a video that showed a drone carrying a gun firing bullets — which has been shown on television news shows and viewed more than 2.8 million times on YouTube. He was not charged in the case after police said he had not violated any state laws.

"We do not want to see drones with weapons on them, as in this incident, where we can't take any legal action," said Cromwell chief Anthony Salvatore, who has represented the Connecticut police chiefs at the state Capitol for the past two decades. "From law enforcement's perspective, now, probably more than ever, we need to bring the bill back and address this type of situation."

Salvatore has been studying the issue for the past two years, and police have said from the start that they wanted to ban weapons and bombs from drones. But Salvatore said he was surprised at the speed of the change in the technology.

"I didn't think, this soon, that we would have somebody to this extent putting a semi-automatic pistol on a drone," Salvatore said Friday in an interview. "It certainly causes us great concern that it was done, and there were no laws broken. The whole thing causes law enforcement great concern."
He added, "Outside of the military, I cannot see any beneficial use. You wouldn't hunt this way. It's not something I would endorse."

David J. McGuire, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, and others said that legislators were so tied up with the last-minute scramble on the two-year, $40 billion budget that they never debated the drone bill in the House.

"It essentially ran out of time," McGuire said. "The dysfunction of the legislature got to it. ... Everyone was expecting it to pass. It had a lot of momentum."

The video has resharpened the spotlight on the issue.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

what is the 4th amendment under panoptic surveillance and longitudinal genetic and behavioral records?


shtfplan |  Minority Report, eat your heart out. The real system is worse than anyone could have imagined.

By now, everybody knows that the NSA and a host of other alphabet agencies are spying on Americans, collecting virtually every piece of communications data they exchange, regardless of whether or not they are “doing anything wrong.”

But what are they doing with it?

Apart from its value in consumer and marketing fields, the data is used to create “threat assessments” and put a black mark on the record of anyone who the authorities deem troublesome that will follow them throughout their career, and make it harder for individuals to get a job, qualify for a loan, travel, or enjoy the rights of a (now once) free society.

Our government want us to believe that EVERY student is a potential threat and we need threat to stop them.
[…]
Every student is given a “THREAT ASSESSMENT” by police and school administrators!
Schools and police are using V-STAG to assess a ‘threat level:
“The Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (V-STAG) is a school-based manualized process designed to help school administrators, mental health staff, and law enforcement officers assess and respond to threat incidents involving students in kindergarten through 12th grade and prevent student violence.”
The war on terror is out of control! Watch out that kindergarten kid could be a threat!
This program and others like it have been developed at the federal level, with FBI involvement, and coordinated across local, state and private organizations. The idea, unfortunately, is to implement this watch-and-flag surveillance grid across the system at every level, and with every institution that people must participate in.

Hey, if it works for prisoners, it would be great for a once free society. Fist tap Big Don

nowhere near established science yet admissable in a court of law?


nih.gov |  Are all humans innately and equally capable of inflicting harm on others? Do we learn by our various experiences to manipulate and even harm others for our own personal gain; or conversely, to be kind and benevolent, offering help even at costs to ourselves? Although these fundamental questions pertaining to the nature of human aggression have plagued scientists and laypersons for centuries, some answers can be found in research spanning the last few decades.

The early experiments of Milgram (1963) made it clear that, under certain circumstances, individuals can be coaxed into aggression and violence. The presence of a strict authority and removal of personal responsibility for one's actions can result in aggressive behaviors that inflict harm on others. The infamous Stanford prison experiment (Haney et al., 1973) also demonstrated that the propensity toward violence and aggression can be elicited—extremely and unexpectedly—in situations, where a legitimized ideology and a powerful authority can lead to impressionability and obedience.

Yet, while these powerful studies revealed the importance of social factors in inducing aggressive behaviors, not all individuals responded in an equally aggressive manner. In Milgram's (1963) first set of experiments, while 65% (26 of 40) of participants complied with the instruction to administer what they believed to be a final, massive 450-volt shock, the remaining 35% did not comply. Many of those who engaged in the aggressive behavior stated they were very uncomfortable doing so, and every participant reportedly questioned the experiment at some point or refused money promised for their study participation (Milgram, 1963). Although the studies by Milgram and Zimbardo provide clear evidence for the role of environment and social situations in affecting aggressive behavior, there are, nonetheless, large individual differences in the propensity for violence and aggression, even under these extreme circumstances.

What factors contribute to individual differences in aggression? Behavioral genetic studies of family members' resemblance for aggressive behavior help shed light on the matter. Twin and adoption studies agree with the experimental literature on aggression, which shows that a large effect of environmental factors is evident, particularly of the nonshared variety. Yet, there is also plenty of evidence, based on a variety of definitions of aggressive behavior from children to adults, for genetic propensity toward aggression (see reviews by Burt, 2009; Miles and Carey, 1997; Rhee and Waldman, 2002). Although few behavioral genetic studies have explicitly examined the question of gene by environment (G × E) interactions, we contend that such interactions are likely to exist and that the genetic propensity for aggression should exert its effects more strongly in some situations than others. Consistent with the early findings of Milgram and Zimbardo, individual genetic predispositions should moderate the extent to which aggression can be elicited, even in extreme situations such as these infamous studies. Our view is that while many, if not most, humans may have the potential for aggression and violence under the right circumstances, not all individuals will succumb to these behaviors under the same circumstances.

This chapter will review recent evidence of genetic and environmental influences on human aggression, with particular attention to several key questions and issues.

behavioral genetics - bad science and worse just-so storytelling...,


scientificamerican |  Last spring, I kicked up a kerfuffle by proposing that research on race and intelligence, given its potential for exacerbating discrimination, should be banned. Now Nature has expanded this debate with "Taboo Genetics." The article "looks at four controversial areas of behavioral genetics"—intelligence, race, violence and sexuality—"to find out why each field has been a flashpoint, and whether there are sound scientific reasons for pursuing such studies."

The essay provides a solid overview, including input from both defenders of behavioral genetics and critics. The author, Erika Check Hayden, quotes me saying that research on race and intelligence too often bolsters "racist ideas about the inferiority of certain groups, which plays into racist policies."
I only wish that Hayden had repeated my broader complaint against behavioral genetics, which attempts to explain human behavior in genetic terms. The field, which I've been following since the late 1980s, has a horrendous track record. My concerns about the potential for abuse of behavioral genetics are directly related to its history of widely publicized, erroneous claims.

I like to call behavioral genetics "gene whiz science," because "advances" so often conform to the same pattern. Researchers, or gene-whizzers, announce: There’s a gene that makes you gay! That makes you super-smart! That makes you believe in God! That makes you vote for Barney Frank! The media and the public collectively exclaim, "Gee whiz!"

Follow-up studies that fail to corroborate the initial claim receive little or no attention, leaving the public with the mistaken impression that the initial report was accurate—and, more broadly, that genes determine who we are.

Over the past 25 years or so, gene-whizzers have discovered "genes for" high IQ, gambling, attention-deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, dyslexia, alcoholism, heroin addiction, extroversion, introversion, anxiety, anorexia nervosa, seasonal affective disorder, violent aggression—and so on. So far, not one of these claims has been consistently confirmed by follow-up studies.

These failures should not be surprising, because all these complex traits and disorders are almost certainly caused by many different genes interacting with many different environmental factors. Moreover, the methodology of behavioral geneticists is highly susceptible to false positives. Researchers select a group of people who share a trait and then start searching for a gene that occurs not universally and exclusively but simply more often in this group than in a control group. If you look at enough genes, you will almost inevitably find one that meets these criteria simply through chance. Those who insist that these random correlations are significant have succumbed to the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

To get a sense of just how shoddy behavioral genetics is, check out my posts on the "liberal gene," "gay gene" and God gene" (the latter two "discovered" by Dean Hamer, whose record as a gene-whizzer is especially abysmal); and on the MAOA-L gene, also known as the "warrior gene." Also see this post, where I challenge defenders of behavioral genetics to cite a single example of a solid, replicated finding.

no easy answer - but them bowl haircuts though...,


nature |  Connecticut’s state medical examiner has requested a full genetic analysis of mass killer Adam Lanza, who shot 20 children, 6 school staff, his mother and himself in Newtown in December. At first glance, it is easy to understand why. Confronted with such senseless violence, it is human nature to seek solace in scientific explanations. After John Wayne Gacy was executed in 1994 for the murder of 33 young men and boys, his brain was preserved and examined for clues to what made him a monster. More than 80 years ago, scientists reportedly studied the brain of serial killer Peter Kürten, the ‘vampire of Dusseldorf’, who was executed in 1931.

This quest to understand endures as technology advances. Now, instead of looking at cranial folds and frontal lobes for clues to the massacre, geneticists at the University of Connecticut in Farmington will scour Lanza’s genes. On its own, this hunt will be about as informative as studies of the brains of murderers: not very.

The Connecticut scientists will not talk about the job they have been handed. It is not clear what they will find, or even what they should look for. Suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend that a ‘mass-shooter gene’ exists — something that no serious geneticist believes — and scientists could still draw no conclusions from a single individual’s genome.

To be sure, many links and suggestions of links have been identified between genetics, mental illness and, to a lesser extent, violence. A study using Swedish registries (R. Kuja-Halkola et al. Dev. Psychopathol. 24, 739–753; 2012) found that children born to men older than 60 were more likely to be convicted of violent crimes than were those born to men aged 40–60 years, an observation that might be linked to increasing numbers of mutations in sperm as men age. Genetic risk factors have been identified for autism, depression and schizoid spectrum disorders, but they explain relatively little. People diagnosed with schizoid spectrum disorders are more likely to be convicted of violent crimes than are those with no such diagnosis, but the vast majority of people with mental illness do not commit crimes.

Such associations hold only for groups. Many healthy people carry mutations associated with disease; many people with mental illness carry no known risk factors. Mass shooters are often young white men, yet very few young white men become mass shooters. There is no one-to-one relationship between genetics and mental health or between mental health and violence. Something as simple as a DNA sequence cannot explain anything as complex as behaviour.

But there is a dangerous tendency to oversimplify, especially in the wake of tragedy.

Monday, July 27, 2015

can biologists fix economics?


newscientist |  THE GLOBAL financial crisis of 2008 took the world by surprise. Few mainstream economists saw it coming. Most were blind even to the possibility of such a catastrophic collapse. Since then, they have failed to agree on the interventions required to fix it. But it’s not just the crash: there is a growing feeling that orthodox economics can’t provide the answers to our most pressing problems, such as why inequality is spiralling. No wonder there’s talk of revolution.

Earlier this year, several dozen quiet radicals met in a boxy red building on the outskirts of Frankfurt, Germany, to plot just that. The stated aim of this Ernst Strüngmann Forum at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies was to create “a new synthesis for economics”. But the most zealous of the participants – an unlikely alliance of economists, anthropologists, ecologists and evolutionary biologists – really do want to overthrow the old regime. They hope their ideas will mark the beginning of a new movement to rework economics using tools from more successful scientific disciplines.

Drill down, and it’s not difficult to see where mainstream “neoclassical” economics has gone wrong. Since the 19th century, economies have essentially been described with mathematical formulae. This elevated economics above most social sciences and allowed forecasting. But it comes at the price of ignoring the complexities of human beings and their interactions – the things that actually make economic systems tick.

The problems start with Homo economicus, a species of fantasy beings who stand at the centre of orthodox economics. All members of H. economicus think rationally and act in their own self-interest at all times, never learning from or considering others.

We’ve known for a while now that Homo sapiens is not like that (see “Team humanity“). Over the years, there have been various attempts to inject more realism into the field by incorporating insights into how humans actually behave. Known as behavioural economics, this approach has met with some success in microeconomics – the study of how individuals and small groups make economic decisions. It has persuaded governments to “nudge” people into doing what’s best for the economy, influencing behaviour by more subtle forms of persuasion than financial inducements. In 2010, the UK government set up the Behavioural Insights Team (known as the Nudge Unit) and the White House established something similar in the US in February last year.

killer-ape antics rooted in food supply and resource security - religion and ideology are merely post hoc conversation...,


theatlantic |  A paper published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences specifically connects a severe drought across the Levant to the Syrian conflict.

The case isn’t a direct one. “Before the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, the greater Fertile Crescent experienced the most severe drought in the instrumental record,” the authors write, arguing that the drought is connected to a long-term change in the climate in the Eastern Mediterranean. “For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest.” ISIS existed in different form, as the Islamic State of Iraq, prior to the outbreak of the civil war, but the collapse of the Syrian state, combined with the fecklessness of the Iraqi armed forces and government, allowed the group to expand its reach and influence, and declare a caliphate.

Of course, scientists and security consultants get nervous when the media covers studies such as this one. They worry, in particular, about the impression that wars can be reduced to a single cause. (As one told The Guardian in May about the PNAS study, “I’ll put this in a crude way: No amount of climate change is going to cause civil violence in the state where I live (Massachusetts), or in Sweden or many other places around the world.”) Still, O’Malley did a pretty good job compressing the study’s findings into a short explanation and contextualizing it as creating the conditions for ISIS’s success, rather than drawing a direct causal link between climate change and the Islamic State.

It’s easy to see how the baldest summary of this claim—a presidential candidate says that global warming created a huge jihadist group!—comes across as silly. But the unfortunate reality is that climate change will likely produce more evidence in the years ahead of the connection between resource scarcity and war—whether it’s fodder for presidential campaigns or not.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

simply about power...,

Listen, Little Man

WaPo |  Repeatedly, it’s a dynamic that has shown itself to be monstrous as the cameras are rolling. The Bland arrest happened at a moment when American policing seems too often unhinged. And the ability to alter or take people’s lives rests in the hands of officers who, when confronted in a job that requires a deft touch for de-escalation, seem criminally unable to get a hold of themselves. 

I’m the po-lice! I can do anything I want. You’re nobody deserving of a more thoughtful interaction. And there’s no societal pressure or apparently internal or human code that calls me to treat you the way I’d want somebody to treat my mother or sister or daughter. Even if I’m asking you, you don’t get to admit to a range of emotions, including, irritation — your job is to endure, or just serve up some of that forgiveness because we can’t get enough of that. 

I wish Bland had put out that cigarette. Then maybe she wouldn’t have sat in jail. Because these are the margins of life — everybody’s life and, Lord knows, black life — when you’re dealing with the police. 



Saturday, July 25, 2015

racetards, bibtards, the god of the stupid - useful idiocy in service to hardcore racist elites...,


billmoyers |  Conventional wisdom holds that the rise of the religious right as a political force to be reckoned with during the 1970s and 1980s was driven by conservative Christians’ intense opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. But Dartmouth College’s Randall Balmer writes that “the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny.” He notes that “it wasn’t until 1979 — a full six years after Roe — that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but …. because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.”

When Roe was first decided, most of the Southern evangelicals who today make up the backbone of the anti-abortion movement believed that abortion was a deeply personal issue in which government shouldn’t play a role. Some were hesitant to take a position on abortion because they saw it as a “Catholic issue,” and worried about the influence of Catholic teachings on American religious observance.

Shortly after the decision was handed down, The Baptist Press, a wire service run by the Southern Baptist Convention — the biggest Evangelical organization in the US — ran an op-ed praising the ruling. “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” read the January 31, 1973, piece by W. Barry Garrett, The Baptist Press’s Washington bureau chief.

when the god of the stupid infected the american body politic...,


HuffPo |  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, evangelical Christians widely believed the Bible says life begins at birth and supported looser abortion policies.

That was my argument in an Oct. 31 op-ed for CNN, titled, "When evangelicals were pro-choice." Understandably, not all evangelical leaders were pleased. Mark Galli at Christianity Today called the op-ed a "fake history" in the title of a response article, even while going on to say the facts in the article are actually true. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, issued a more honest response, conceding that many "evangelicals did hold to embarrassingly liberal positions on the abortion issue (including, I must admit, the Southern Baptist Convention)." But both said that the change in evangelical opinion was not driven by a late-1970s political mobilization effort.

Given the enduring importance of evangelical anti-abortion activism, the reality and significance of this history deserves fuller discussion.

That mainstream evangelical leaders widely held liberal views on abortion at the time is undeniable. These were the dominant evangelical views.

In 1968, Christianity Today and the Christian Medical Society hosted a gathering of evangelical leaders from across the country for a symposium on birth control. The purpose was to set forth "the conservative or evangelical position within Protestantism" from scholars who "shared a common acceptance of the Bible as the final authority on moral issues." The joint statement resulting from the conference, titled "A Protestant Affirmation on the Control of Human Reproduction," included the consensus of attendees on abortion.

"Whether the performance of an induced abortion is sinful we are not agreed," it declared, "but about the necessity of it and permissibility for it under certain circumstances we are in accord." Circumstances justifying abortion included "family welfare, and social responsibility." "When principles conflict," they affirmed, "the preservation of fetal life ... may have to be abandoned to maintain full and secure family life."

the god of stupid people installs the soul at the moment of conception without knowing if the wetware will work...,


wikipedia |  Miscarriage, also known as spontaneous abortion and pregnancy loss, is the natural death of an embryo or fetus before it is able to survive independently.[1][2] Some use the cutoff of 20 weeks of gestation after which fetal death is known as a stillbirth.[2] The most common symptoms of a miscarriage is vaginal bleeding.[1] This may occur with or without pain.[1] Tissue or clot like material may also come out the vagina.[3] Sadness, anxiety, and guilt may also occur.[4]

Risk factors for miscarriage include an older mother or father, previous miscarriage, exposure to tobacco smoke, obesity, diabetes, and drug or alcohol use, among others.[5][6] In those under the age of 35 the risk is about 10% while it is about 45% in those over the age of 40.[1] Risk begins to increase around the age of 30.[5] About 80% of miscarriages occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (the first trimester). The underlying mechanism in about half of cases involves chromosomal abnormalities. Other conditions that can produce similar symptoms include an ectopic pregnancy and implantation bleeding.[1] Diagnosis of a miscarriage may involve checking to see if the cervix is open or closed, testing blood levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and an ultrasound.[7]

Prevention is occasionally possible with good prenatal care. This may involve avoiding drugs and alcohol, infectious diseases, and radiation.[8] No specific treatment is usually needed during the first 7 to 14 days.[6][9] Most women will complete the miscarriage without interventions.[6] Occasionally the medication misoprostol or a procedure known as dilation and curettage (D&C) is required to remove the failed pregnancy.[9] Women who are rhesus negative may require Rho(D) immune globulin.[6] Pain medication and emotional support may be beneficial.[9]

Miscarriage is the most common complication of early pregnancy.[10] Among women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is roughly 10% to 20% while rates among all conceptions is around 30% to 50%.[1][5] About 5% of women have two miscarriages in a row.[11]