Not paying enough attention

I only registered the existence of a new UK ID promotion centre after a comment here from Grumpy Bob led me to his blog. I must start paying attention. Just when you think that the ID nonsense is dead, it pops up again, Whack-a-mole style.

Here’s the Guardian version of the story.

This organisation – which claims to represent a non-zero number of scientists – is organising a UK tour featuring Michael Behe. (or “Prof Mike Behe, Professor of Chemistry at Lehigh University, USA,” as they chummily put it.)

There are huge numbers of comments on the Guardian piece, most of which make excellent points. Yet again.

On the Guardian blog page, you can’t miss the shot of the smiling avuncular Dr Alistair Noble, who has plenty of form in this area. You may however overlook this:

The small print of the website says the centre’s activity “is organised under a charitable trust governed by the laws of Guernsey, Channel Islands.
The centre receives funding from individuals and organisations who support its aims… “. (From the Guardian)

Channel Islands. Odd choice of a banking institution for a Scottish lay preacher. Must make it quite a trek to pay in the pennies contributed by enthusiastic individuals…

…Noble denies that the centre is a British branch of Discovery: “We are friends with Discovery and we talk to them, but we are not formally linked. We would be interested in developing links with Europe. We don’t get money from America – it is funded from Britain.” (From the Guardian)

Well, we wouldn’t know about that, would we? What with the trust being set up in the Channel Islands?

Protect your data

Compulsory ID cards are instruments of evil. They will not make protect you from crime and will not make you safer, unless they end up produced out of bomb proof kevlar and big enough to wear. They serve no purpose for any member of the public but will cost you money. The only conceivable reason why the government is so keen to force the British public into paying for them is to allow the intelligence and security agencies unparalleled access to personal data and activity.

This is actually the only bones to the “make you safer” argument, in that by allowing the Police / Security services access to your ID card data (which would, one assumes, include all the locations where your ID has been checked and what purposes it was checked for) it will increase their ability to find criminals and terrorists. If you have read any of my previous posts you will be well aware that I think this is very, very, wrong. But this is an argument for another day. Today’s ironic turn of events is that even if MI5 have all your data and are watching your every move it wont help – because al-Qaida are actually working for MI5 in the first place.

From today’s Guardian:

A senior Tory MP today called for an investigation into whether MI5 mistakenly recruited al-Qaida sympathisers.

Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the counter-terrorism subcommittee, said six Muslim recruits had been thrown out of the service because of serious concerns over their pasts.

The MP said he was writing to the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to call for an investigation into the matter.

Two of the six men allegedly attended al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan while the others had unexplained gaps of up to three months in their CVs.

The irony here is really not lost on me and points to two issues.

First off, and possibly most importantly, no matter how much vetting takes place BADPEOPLE™ will get into the police or government. This has been the case since the dawn of secrecy. By their very nature spies are people who are able to infiltrate the highest levels of an organisation by appearing trustworthy. Equally, as the police and intelligence/security services well know, agents are people who are currently trusted by an organisation but are vulnerable to being expolited by hostile groups. This is done all the time against “enemies” (criminal or political), and it is even done in the “civilian” business world. I am sure this is stating the obvious but it is important background.

Knowing this, do you think that having all your identity data in one central location is a good idea? For ID cards to work, huge swathes of people need to be able to access the database – which causes errors. The data has to be entered and maintained, which causes errors. These are accidental problems which would be bad enough. Criminals and terrorists have the funding and will to deliberately corrupt the data. The concept of an ID card moves the burden of proof from the government to the “innocent until proven otherwise” citizen. Do you have the resources and will power of an organised crime gang or terrorist group?

If a criminal can compromise one aspect of your ID data that is a BADTHING©™® but you can take steps to rectify it, knowing that it shouldn’t lead to a cascade of ID failures. Stealing your National Insurance number, for example, shouldn’t lead to them getting access to your bank account details or your drivers licence. Crucially, should a criminal use your NI Number – and nothing else -  in the process of a crime (odd but possible) then it is unlikely that you would be the suspect. However, with a central ID card that is not the case.

Now back to MI5 and the other police and security agencies. Given the number of people involved, and recent large scale recruitment campaigns, it is unfathomable that some bad eggs haven’t slipped through the net. In the case of MI5 the pay is so pitiful by London terms that it is equally certain that there are some members of the organisation who would be open to financial corruption – not to mention the ones who could be co-opted in a million different ways. Do you trust them with all your data? Do you trust them to treat you fairly at all times?

Secondly: what sort of crazy world is it where an “unexplained gaps of up to three months” in your CV means you are a terrorist? I hope they never see my CV otherwise its Gitmo for me. Or is it just 3+ month gaps in the CV of people of middle-eastern descent? What is happening?

I’d say the world had gone mad but it seems an understatement. What really worries me is an old saying that keeps going round my head about when everyone else in the world seems mad its probably you…

Failure to grasp the point

Truly, the world is a pendulum. A great post on Why Evolution is True about the vestigial grasp observed in human infants was countered by a silly post on Uncommon Descent.

WEIT discussed how the instinctive grasping reflex observed in newborn babies can best be interpreted as a relic of behaviour in pre-hominids (new-born babies hanging on to their mothers)

This is not a revolutionary new idea. I am amazed that it is even contentious. This was accepted wisdom in the UK several years ago.

O’Reilly’s counter starts from the position of apparently never having heard of the idea that “anecdote is not evidence”.

When my first child was very young, she had a habit of grasping my hair while feeding. My hair was long at that time.
It seemed to please and comfort her.

(Can I be the only person who sees it as a commentary on O’Reilly’s attitude to her offspring that – believing pleasure and comfort to be the only reason for the baby’s hair-grasping – O’Reilly immediately got her hair cut? )

However, grasping has many uses for a human infant – it is the principle [sic - a pedant] way the infant contacts reality (unfortunately by attempting to put things in its mouth), that being the only sense that is even moderately well developed.

This sentence is too ambiguous to follow. She seems to have meant to put the end of the sentence in the bracket, so I’ll ignore the bit about taste.

We are left with grasping being described as the main way in which an infant contacts reality. What? Does this make any sense?

In case you can’t answer that rhetorical question, let me answer it for you. “No.”

So what? Well, this Uncommon Descent post was O’Reilly’s “answer” to:

Incidentally, what do the ID and the Evolution-is-limited-in-scope (Behe, et all) do with data like this:

“Mouth random words” is what they do, apparently.

Oh, and betray that they implicitly acknowledge the role of evolution :-) :

However, I also suspect that it has been a long time since any such skill as hanging on to mother was needed.

A long time? As in “the sort of time scales and species changes that evolution would predict”?

UK Liberty coalition – not before time

The forthcoming Convention on Modern Liberty gathering on 28 February will be a …. call to arms, to all parties, to resist the government’s attack on our liberties, rights and privacy. “(from Henry Porter in the Guardian)

Supported by the Guardian, Rowntree Trust,Liberty and Open democracy, a host of people, including well-known lawyers, writers and MPs from all parties, will discuss the way that

the patterns we see in the Coroners and Justice Bill, ID card laws and the Communications Data Bill (which will allow the government to seize and store every text message, email, phone call and internet connection) tell us that our democracy is under serious threat.

Woohoo. At last. Almost brings a tear to my eye to see a disparate range of people coming together to challenge the encroaching authoritarianism of our country.

There are events throughout the UK. Details on modernlibertynet It isn’t cheap to attend these but you can access news on a blog, facebook, twitter, and so on.

Stupidity and lies for Jesus

Always willing to flog a dead horse, I’ve stumbled across more mind-bending nonsense on the crazy-fest that is Yahoo! Answers. As I mentioned previously, this (*) is a haven for the weird and wonderful ideas people can come up with. Sadly, in the best of Web 2.0 traditions, idiocy, bad education and lies rise to the surface while real education gets drowned under the stupidity of the commons. I honestly think that if a good answer ever turned up it would be drowned under the idiocy (and get so many thumbs down) it would quickly flee for its life.

The most recent idiocy to draw my attention is a month old question titled “Do fossils of now extinct creatures such as dinosaurs prove evolution?” (see original)

At first site this looks like a legitimate question. It is the sort of question you would expect inquisitive school children to ask. It gives the chance for a well thought out answer about the nature of fossils, what evolutionary theory is and how scientific proofs work. You can imagine it being the sort of question a teacher would set a class to see what research they carry out. Well, Toutatis forbid they type the question into a search engine. The results are shocking. To an otherwise ignorant person seeing to improve their education, this search would be disastrous. Anyway, back to the question.

After an innocent start (obviously to trick the unwary), the question continues:

The fact that dinosaurs once lived and are now extinct is no proof of evolution. Such fossils merely show us that certain species once living were destroyed and became extinct. Theorists have been able to reach no general agreement on the cause or causes of extinction. The theories on this subject are numerous and sometimes very imaginative. Since most fossils are found in sedimentary rocks and show signs of catastrophic burial, they seem to point to a global flood as the principal cause of extinction. They must have lived on earth at the same time, just as the Bible implies.

Oh dear Belenus! It is true that the fact dinosaurs lived once and not any more is not proof of evolution. After a promising start it crashes down into a pile of blithering idiocy. So far so uneducated. Next we get:

If the flood-geology interpretation of geological strata is correct, all or most dinosaurs became extinct at the time of the flood. Until that time, then, man and dinosaurs lived on the earth at the same time.

Its good that he uses an “if” to start there. I agree that if the flood geology interpretation were correct dinosaurs died at the flood. However it isn’t. It isn’t even close. Man and Dino did not live on Earth at the same time. It really is that easy.

So far this is just standard creationist idiocy. It is the sad product of poor education, poor understanding and religious doctrine combining. As always though, the monumental lack of evidence to support creationism causes problems and the TRUE BELIEVER© is forced to lie for Jesus. It happens all the time. In all types of debate. The stronger the persons faith, the more they seem willing to lie for their deity. I find the irony very entertaining. Here we have:

Is there any EVIDENCE outside of the Bible to support this view? Yes, there is. It is well known that along the Paluxy River in Texas many dinosaur footprints have been found in limestone strata classified as Cretaceous. Not so well known is the fact that for about fifty years human footprints have been reported in the same strata.

Taranis give me strength. Don’t you just love it when some one asks a question that they answer themselves? Yes. (all puns intended). The only evidence to support humans and dinosaurs co-existing is in the minds of creationists. It isn’t even in the Bible. It is pure fiction. The Flintstones is not real. Lying for Jesus is still lying. The crazy questioner finishes off with his bit of conspiracy theory for Jesus nonsense:

Source: Footprints in Stone(color-sound film)
But since the concept that man lived with dinosaurs is incompatible with the theory of evolution, many Scientists dismiss this documentary for the persuasive evidence unfolded.

Man living with Dino is not incompatible with evolution. The “documentary” evidence cites is not dismissed for that reason and it really is not persuasive…

The screaming stupidity that is Yahoo! Answers comes out in the “best answer” chosen by the “asker.” As is so often the case, the person chooses a best answer that restates whatever idiocy they agree with. This is no different:

I do agree with you to some extent. It is impossible for humans to prove the actual “age” of the extinct dinosaur remains. When scientists try to “determine” the age of the dinosaur remains by soil composition and “carbon dating” etc, I just shake my head. Anybody can make an assumption about life that way. It is also impossible for humans to determine exactly how old the history of mankind is as well. Remember, in the early days of creation, people lived much longer then we do now. Of course they did. Adam lived for 930 years, and his son Seth lived for 912 years. Before the flood, many people lived well into their hundreds. There was a wonderful balance of nature then. No pollution or anything “man-made” existed to destroy that balance. God knew what he was doing right from the very beginning. His creation and existence is perfection in itself – he is the superb mastercraftsman! I bow to his absolute genius…

It is mind-numbing in its stupidity. What on Earth is age doing in quotes? What is the idiot trying to say? Putting determine in sneer quotes – what is that all about? The whole answer manages to be so far from the truth it is almost beyond belief. It isn’t even internally consistent. Even in Biblical terms there were lots of man-made things before the flood – the Ark for example…

The wonders of the internet (and specifically web 2.0) push this stupidity to the top of a search engine query. The miracle of Web2.0 gives the asker the chance to give prominence to the madness that the person asking the question wants to be seen as the answer. Yes, if you scroll down you can find better answers but not everyone is going to do that and, crucially, when they have had their reasoning tainted by the initial two bits, they will be more sceptical of the truth than of the idiocy.

Web 2.0 is not about empowerment and it certainly is not about the shared wisdom of the masses. The tragedy of the commons seems so much more appropriate.

* I suspose this may be a specific problem to the Religion and Spirituality part of Yahoo Answers, but the other sections seem to be riddled with nutjob answers…

Teaching “the controversy”, again

Almost a third of teachers think creationism should be taught on a par with evolution, according to the Times.

Of the 1,200 questioned, 53 per cent thought that creationism should not be taught in science lessons, while 29 per cent thought it should.

OK, a third is some serious rounding up from 29%, but the 29% figure itself is quite scary. It suggests that 29% of teachers are either stupid or batshit crazy, which isn’t encouraging. After all, these people have made their way through years of school and higher education to get to become teachers.

It’s certainly evidence for how far ID /creationism has penetrated the UK.

Hoping to find that the poll was conducted by AIG in a few church schools, I am shocked to find that this comes from Teachers TV (to which the Times added an ill-advised pedantic apostrophe, not used by the station itself.)

As you might expect from the name, Teachers TV is mainly worthy but dull (Key stage x in subject blah) but it sometimes has some fascinating content. (I’ve accidentally caught programmes on neuroscience and Turkish tiled architecture, when randomly clicking through the cable channels.) They are currently featuring “Evolution week” on their site. So these poll results don’t seem to be skewed in favour of a creationist agenda.

Which makes the 29% depressingly possible. Worse 18% of a sample of 248 science teachers (albeit a small sample, skewed by respondent bias) thought evolution and creationism should have equal status

Teachers TV interviewed Dr Adam Rutherford (podcast editor for Nature)

Dr Rutherford says that science teachers with those views need retraining or should be taken out of the classroom if they refuse to change their opinion.

That seems as uncontroversial as saying that a domestic science teacher who can’t boil an egg should be retrained or sacked.

However, it brought up quite a furious response in some comments on the Teachers TV site (among the rational ones, that said that phrenology and astrology weren’t taught in science classes either.)

For example, edinburgh4 said that his/her creation group had PHD-qualified speakers and:

the idea that unintelligent design (naturalism) can be falsified while at the same time intelligent design cannot is logically untenability [sic] and morally dubious. If a design did not come from an unintelligent source there is only one conclusion left. Excluding special creation from discussion leaves evolution as the only option this is hollow victory. More and more the public are seeing it as such.

oeditor replied, disputing the “qualifications” of these speakers:

Professor McIntosh may talk about birds but he is an engineer, not a biologist. Nor is he a geologist, as can be seen from his claim that the Grand Canyon was formed by Noah’s flood – “probably in matter of hours”. He isn’t a historian or a linguist either, despite having produced a DVD claiming that the Chinese ideographic script provides evidence of the Tower of Babel.
What he is – and he proclaims this proudly – is a committed Christian who believes that the biblical account of creation in Genesis is to be taken literally and that it happened about 6000 years ago. Everything he and his fellow creationists claim stems from that one premise and nothing else.

Nullius in Verba said

The issue is not whether Creation should be taught in science lessons. The issue is how genuine scientific thought and debate should be encouraged. Stifling the debate as Adam Rutherford suggests is a recipe for tyranny and there is a great danger of insisting that atheism is the only paradigm in which to conduct science (patently not true when one considers the greats like Faraday and Boyle of earlier centuries).

It is even more disturbing that teachers don’t seem to have a basic grasp of logic than that they think it’s reasonable to teach creationism in science classes.

This “stifling the debate” is a common but deeply flawed creationist argument. There are a million to the power of a million possible theories about the nature of life.

Indeed you could produce alternative theories about anything. I could try to get a cup of coffee by standing on one leg, putting a cat on my head, facing magnetic north and chanting “Ding McChing.” It probably wouldn’t work but who knows if they haven’t tried it? If I was undergoing barista training for a chain of coffee bars, I wouldn’t expect them to allow that as an alternative to switching on the machines, grinding the beans and so on. Or if there was really relativist manager who’d let the trainee baristas discuss their own theories, wouldn’t they have to try out the sacrifice of a young goat with a silver knife, if someone else liked that idea? of course, you might have to wait a few millenia for a double espresso.

I can’t see the difference here at all. Some theories have been proven to work through experiment. Until there are theories that work better, it would be slack not to teach people the ones with the empirical backup.

I think Terry Pratchett has at least one (science?) degree. In his Diskworld books, a flat earth is carried on the backs of giant elephants standing on the back of a turtle. What if some of his readers don’t understand the concept of “fiction”? (Not unlike the average fundy) Surely this theory should be discussed in science classes? Respectfully, as a legitimate alternative to geography, in case any of the students’ parents believe it, of course.

*************
Update
Read more about this on the excellent Opinion of a Minion blog

And so it begins

The good old almost forgotten UK ID nonsense creeps inexorably closer. First they came for the foreign nationals… etc.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the cards would allow people to “easily and securely prove their identity”.
Critics say the roll-out to some immigrants is a “softening up” exercise for the introduction of identity cards for everyone.
The card will also include information on holders’ immigration status. (from the BBC)

There is something especially shameless about the way the government is playing the immigrant card to soften up the UK population. Grrrrrrr.

Bank Security?

Here in the UK things such as ID-theft and bank fraud are “big news.” It feels like almost every day there is a news item about the government or large organisations losing personal data or a scare about how many people are out there stealing our online banking details. While I have a professional interest in people worrying about information security (and will provide a wonderful consultancy service for a discount if you quote WhyDontYou Blog) I have to say there is more than a small dose of hype and overkill in this.

That said, there is a risk and it is only sensible that people are aware of the potential risks and given the correct advice to mitigate against them.

The important bit is the “correct advice.”

In the UK at least, the Banks are largely responsible for making good any fraudulent use of an account unless they can prove it was the account owners fault. This is a good thing and while the banks will suffer a bit because of some stupid people, the majority of “innocent” victims are protected.

Obviously the banks dont like this. They could take measures to improve their banking security or they could take measures that give a superficial improvement but, on the whole, only shift the burden onto the account holder. Not too long ago, in the UK, if you wanted to buy something with a card you had to sign to prove who you were. The shop owner compared this with the signature on the card and verified your ID – if they were in doubt, they could seek additional documentation. Despite what people think, signatures are hard to forge. This method also forced the shop keeper to physically check the card and read the details.

Despite this, there was still some residual fraudulent activity so the banks changed the process to “Chip and PIN” where you now enter your card into a reader and type in a 4 digit PIN. Wonderful. This is a reasonably secure system but it has a few pitfalls. The most basic is often the shop staff have no contact with the card during the transaction. This means they don’t carry out the basic authentication check of seeing if the person before them is the owner of the card. My wife regularly uses my credit card to shop, because nowhere we go checks that the person in front of them is Mr **** ****** despite it saying that on the front of the card in big letters. This is less important because the 4 digit PIN becomes the safeguard, but basically, it makes it easier to pass of a cloned / fraudently created card – 4 numbers are reasonably easy to find out or, if the card is “created” then they are irrelevant. As far as security goes, this is (largely) marking time. But it does the important task of moving the burden away from the bank.

The latest brainwave the banks have come up with actually annoys me.

Barclays Bank has decided to implement “PINSentry” when you log into their online banking or try to make online payments. Wonderful idea. Well, maybe.

In a nutshell, they have sent everyone a card reader that you use when you log in. To do online banking, you enter your password (etc) as normal, then you have to enter your card into the reader, get an authorisation code and enter that. All well and good – in fact this is a wide scale implementation of a time-worn authorisation system. Previously the entry system was username+password, then a “secret” code. Now the secret code has been replaced by this token generation system.

The problem is that it undermines one of the reasons you do online banking. For me, I like to use online banking from various locations – I often use it from work and if I am travelling. If I were a Barclays’ customer I would now be forced to carry this bloody stupid PINsentry device around with me. Should my bag be stolen, the thief would have my card and the PINsentry, defeating any security improvement it gives.

From the banks point of view, however, it is a good idea. It shifts the burden of blame in the event of a fraudulent transaction. Now you have to prove your PINsentry was compromised, not them having to prove their systems were not compromised.

This is not a good change. It doesn’t really make your transactions any more secure. It just makes you more to blame if something goes wrong. (Even, I suspect, if the bank has sold your details on eBay…)

Identity Cards Will Cure All That Ails You

Well, first off, thanks to Alun sending me the link to the monstrously funny site called “spEak You’re bRanes” and the simply amazing Twat O Tron, I no longer have the faintest idea if the garbage posted on the BBC website’s have your say section is even slightly real. Worryingly, I think that the gibberish there is actually posted by real people. I say real people, but now I am convinced they are actually employees of the Home Secretary posting nonsense in a thinly disguised attempt to change public opinion. I would hate to think that people this stupid would be able to use a computer well enough to access the internet.

One of today’s talking points is the prospect of introducing Identity Cards to this once free nation. Weirdly the BBC seems to have used the wrong tense with the title, but it is called “Is the government creating a ‘surveillance society’?” and, boy, has it generated some nonsense.

Take this wonder from “Joy Pattinson” (claiming to be from Switzerland, but that just makes me think it is the Twat o Tron):

I have no confidence in this “government” whatsoever! They are unelected, uncouth and incompetent. But I am for ID cards 100% but think they should include everybody over the age of 12 with so much knife crimes in the UK. ID cards are in focus in other European countries and they are not considered security states. But I prefer to live in on with security and less personal freedom than the other way around. ID card protect the honest and legitimates. Those protesting are suspect! Joy

What? Seriously this idiot is claiming that carrying ID cards will prevent knife crime. How, Zeus only knows. I honestly cant even work out where to begin with this bit of nonsense. And, as a point of note, the Labour Party were elected to power in the UK, it is down to the party to decide on the leader of the government.

“John from Wilts” also produces a strangely “Twat-0-Tron”-esque comment with:

I have 2 ID cards both Spanish. One has my name and address on it and my Spanish NHS number and my fingerprint on the reverse. The 2nd card is my medical card with my NHS number and date of birth. Should I have an accident anywhere in Spain when the card is swiped it gives my doctors name my Consultorio (Surgery) and access to my medical records which would include any time spent in hospital and the treatment recieved. What fuss people make about ID cards here is entirely childish and petty.

Again we have another magical use for ID cards to save lives. Quite why some one from Wiltshire thinks a Spanish health service card is any use to them – or different from carrying your British NHS card – is beyond me. Does the NHS even have a system which would allow this?

Oddly, this wonderful life saving use of ID cards is not one they could be put to – so quite how John From Wilts thinks it is relevant is beyond me. Is this an opening shot in the inevitable mission creep ID cards are going to suffer from?

People who support ID cards have a list of things they think the ID card will protect them from. The fact that none of these match the government claims is ignored. Weirdly, the government itself seems unable to quantify what value ID cards will give to our society. What crimes in the (say) last 10 years would have been prevented by people carrying ID cards?

Still, despite this, there seem to be people capable of at least some higher brain functions who support ID cards.

Why?

Preach the Controversy…

The nonsense, and false controversy, created by Expelled just seems to never want to go away. In this respect the Discovery Institute really hit on to a winner with what could best be described as a poor first attempt by an art student film. Atheist and science blogs have been discussing the nonsense for what seems like eternity. I cant imagine how anyone could even begin to pay for this amount of publicity but there you go. Sadly, I actually feel that all this furore around the crap film is actually required.

Gorilla's EyesOnce upon a time I was optimistic about the human race. In this mindset I would have thought to myself “everyone seeing this film will realise it is total bullshit and ignore it.” I have, sadly, learned to think differently. When nonsense is placed into the public domain it can be either challenged or ignored. By challenging it the nonsense rises to the status of “controversy” and there is (in the public mind at least) the concept of a debate taking place. By ignoring it, the unthinking public begin to think it has merit and it slowly becomes an accepted “truth.” It really is a lose:lose situation for rational science. I can not think of a way to avoid the nonsense taking over the Earth, but at least, where I can, I will try to challenge it.

With this in mind, I came across a gorgeous picture of an American church on flickr. This is a very attractive picture so please, take a moment to visit and have a look – if you have a flickr account, please let the photographer know what you think of the picture (and he has a pretty good photostream).

It all went downhill, however, when I read the description of the picture.

Freedom of thought and expression are two of the most basic tenants of any free society.
Without those two things, you do not have a free society.

Well, I pretty much agree. They may well not be the most basic tenets of society but freedom of expression is very important. On a pedantic note, I cant see how (realistically) you can take away someone’s freedom of thought until mind-reading becomes commonplace.

We went to a must see movie this weekend. In Ben Stein’s (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”) new documentary movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed Ben shows how little academic freedom exists in our universities if you want to discuss unpopular topics like the origins of life. (links removed here but intact on the original)

Ouch. And he had got off to such a good start. Notice how this brings in the Creationist stand-by of creating the false associations with “academic freedom” and “unpopular topics”? Creationism / ID relies on trickery to convince the unthinking that it is a legitimate “alternative” and some secret cabal are trying to repress it. The “freedom” word is thrown around whenever someone tries to point out is not science to the extent that the average non-scientist actually thinks it is an oppressed viewpoint. Amazing really.

Much of the academic world thinks that the conversation should be closed because Darwinian Evolution has answered all of those questions… But, is that true????

Another creationist gem. This is a great question because it is massively false. No scientist, especially evolutionary biologists, think the conversation should be closed. That is the claim made by the creationists. However, this 180 degree spin goes a long way to masking that.

If you do not think that is true as a professor, get ready to loose you job. Yes, that politically incorrect thought has been banned in the university… I thought the university was a place of open discussion and thought???? Think again…

And here is the first falsehood. No professor who thinks the question about origins of species is not closed would lose their job. A professor who is so confused about their subject area as to think Creationism is an “alternative” to evolution should lose their job in the same manner that a physics professor who thinks the luminiferous ether exists, and propagates light, should lose their job. Imagine a woodwork teacher who thought you could cut would with butter, should he remain teaching? No. But not because “politically incorrect thought has been banned.”

Further on, as part of a short debate, the photographer comments:

You are exactly what the movie was talking about… you just to creationism the moment that intelligent design is brought up…
and you assume that all tenants of darwinian evolution are true..
and you think they are well defined….
Darwinian evolition is a mess… It is not science in the least…

More weirdness. Creationism is ID. No one assumes all the tenets of “Darwinian Evolution” are true, no one even assumes all the “tenets” of Evolution are true. That is not what science is about. The odd bit is the claim that Evolution is not science… I really struggle to get my head round the idea that people can honestly think Creationism Intelligent Design is “good science” compared to evolution. Where is the falsifiability? Where are the predictions?

After a while others join in the debate with things like this (from an otherwise reasonable person):

All that said, Wayne I completely agree that the way the discussion is silenced in academia is shameful. When scientist trot out the “earth is flat” idea they forget that at one time “scientiist” accepted that idea too. In other words, the commonly accepted “facts” might be wrong.

Argh. Do people honestly think that the academic world should engage in constant debate over all possible alternatives to a scientific theory? When did scientists EVER think the world was flat?

The last point I want to make before I remind everyone to go and look at the picture themselves is based on this:

We know from the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) www.entropylaw.com/ stuff always breaks down and degrades…. macro evoution requires more information to be added to produce more complex things…. second law of thermodynamics directly contratics that…. btw.. this is a law… meaning it always happen… not a theory like evolution…

Ouch. That good old standby the 2nd law. Obviously the Earth lives in isolation from the rest of the universe and no information (energy) can be added. Damn that Sun…

The best bit is the Law / Theory nonsense. Do people really not understand how the words work? Obviously not, because when challenged on the matter, our creationist photographer responded:

With all due respect, you are wrong about scientific law and theory.
You can read here science.kennesaw.edu/~rmatson/3380theory.html and a million other places…

Argh. Such madness, especially as the link doesn’t really support his claim but I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to try an educate him.

Please, take a moment to visit the Flickr photo page. It is a nice picture and the more sensible, reasonable and educational comments he get, the greater the chance he (or others) will learn something. If the nonsense is ignored, then the nonsense prospers.

Agreeing with Peter Hitchens! Oh Noes!

By Zeus, it must be time for me to kill myself. I have obviously suffered some kind of brain injury and am clinging on to reality by the thinnest of threads. Today, not only did I actually buy the Mail on Sunday (*), but I found myself agreeing with the obnoxious Peter Hitchens’ commentary. I will report to the euthanasia centre forthwith.

In a piece titled “Nothing to hide, but plenty to fear from Ms ID Card“, Annoying Hitchens makes some actually good, valid points:

She says we “need” to “prove who we are”. But mainly we need to do this because the Government has spun a spider’s web of silly rules, which snags the law-abiding and spares real troublemakers.

I agree. Hitchens continues by identifying some of the future strictures ID cards will place upon us then the bit I agree with most:

These precautions are useless against real money-launderers, paedophiles, gangsters and terrorists, who laugh at them. But they make people like Ms Smith look and feel as if they are doing something.

This is the whole problem with the idea. The implementation of ID cards is useless for its stated aims — criminals will not be inconvenienced by them in anyway. It is a shame I agree with Hitchens on something, but for now I have just put it down to his rabid hatred of the Labour government — if ID cards had been a Conservative party idea, he would be behind them all the way.

Back on the subject of ID cards, proper though — another point I neglected last time I ranted is the madness that ID cards can work if less than every member of society carries one. As long as they are optional, they are pointless for pretty much any of the ideas Ms Smith suggests they could be used for. If an immigrant is challenged and they say “I am not an immigrant” what could the government do about it? As they claim to not be a non-EU migrant, they wouldn’t be expected to carry an ID card therefore you can’t demand to see their ID card…

What passes for Logic in Ms Smiths world amazes me.

(*) In my defence it did have a good “free” music CD, which is the real reason I bought it. Odin only knows why I actually opened the “newspaper” (in the loosest sense of the word) and read anything.

ID Cards for your own good…

Well, Orwell is still spinning in his grave. Despite some apparently premature optimism, it seems that ID cards are very much on the government’s agenda. Today’s news headlines have been very much about the “ID Card Rethink [bbc as example]” and how we are all going to end up with one.

This is all despite the House of Lords “setback” and the massive online YouGov poll that showed a significant percentage of the population were against the idea. To me, in addition to the hateful ideas of forced identity documents, the fact the government is able and willing to completely ignore over a million of the electorate’s opinions speaks volumes for how modern democracy works…

In a token gesture to people’s opinions, the government is planning to bring ID card by stealth in a phased manner. I assume the thinking is target the least popular / most vulnerable parts of society then, in a few years everyone will have come round to the idea and we will all carry one. Distasteful is an understatement.

In her speech announcing the new Identity Card plans, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith made the following statements:

I start from the premise that the National Identity Scheme is a public good.

Starting from a false premise is never going to lead to anything of value… This is largely, Smith saying the assumption was always we were going to have Identity Cards, like it or not.

As citizens, it will offer us a new, secure and convenient way to protect and prove our identity.

What is new about it? How is it more secure than, say, a passport or driving licence? Equally, how the **** does the existence of an ID card protect your identity?

And it will provide us with the reassurance we need that others who occupy positions of trust in our society are who they say they are as well.

This is odd, and the radio news made a big deal about this. What people who occupy positions of trust don’t already carry a form of ID? Lots of news sources go on about how Airport staff will be early ones to get them – oddly, you already need to have an ID card to get airside at an airport. What will have actually changed? Are the current procedures flawed?

Now, at this point I was going to do a line by line rebuttal of her claims but as they are all insane it will take much too long. Nearly every sentence she utters in her speech contains falsehoods and spin to trick people into thinking ID Cards will solve the worlds problems. They wont.

In an effort to be brief, I will try to address her main points.

Surveillance is everywhereFirstly, ID cards are supposed to be brought in to prevent crime and terrorism. Wow. If having to carry an ID card would prevent someone from being a terrorist, why are there still terrorists in the world? Same with crime. Neither activity will be deterred simply by the existence of a voluntary ID scheme. The best that could possibly be hoped for would be for a compulsory ID card, with fingerprint data, that may enable the police to catch people after a crime(*). In years gone by crazy ideas were often supported with a “wont anyone think of the children” (as parodied by the Simpsons), now we have Prevent Terrorism as the buzzword. If the government want to pass laws people will hate it is always linked to prevention of terrorism. Didn’t anyone watch “In the Name of the Father?”

Secondly they are supposed to prevent Identity Fraud. How this happens is never, ever, mentioned and, frankly, defies even the most cursory examination. Again reading through Ms Smith’s speech is an exercise in logical fallacies, there are more appeals to fear than I care to count. The phrases basically go along the lines of criminals steal identities so get an ID card. This sounds good and there is a half-hearted example of one person who defrauded the state out of £2.5m over five years. Compare this to Northern Rock who have taken over £100billion from the state in as many months. Who is the worse criminal? On a more personal level, ID theft is a terrible thing and I genuinely feel for anyone it happens to. Would the national ID card prevent it? Ninety nine times out of a hundred the answer is no, and in the other one is it a maybe.

CCTV Cameras Cover the CountryFor example, if some one hacks your Ebay account and runs up charges would an ID card have protected you? Same with anything online (where most ID theft apparently takes place) and in the offline world it only works when it interacts with the government. Someone can steal your ID and apply for credit cards, loans etc., and unless the issuing authority has access to the central database there is no way to find out.

This leads to the other problem. The database itself becomes a single point of failure. All a person needs to do is attack that to gain a legitimate, but false, identity. As recent months (and years) have shown, the Government is a largely inept organisation when it comes to protecting the data it holds. The news has covered dozens of “accidents” where huge amounts of personal data have been lost into the public domain. Do you feel safe thinking that a group with this track record will hold the gold standard of data about your identity?

Ms Smith has considered this and some reassurance is given:

Private firms will be encouraged to set-up “biometric enrolment centres” where passport and ID card applicants will be fingerprinted. [BBC news]

WTF! To make matters worse, this personal and private data will be collected by non-accountable organisations who have, by definition, their primary goal of making profit. By Toutatis this is madness. Here we will have the situation where staff on a minimum wage will be responsible for inputting your ID details and making sure no one else can get access to them. People who can be bribed with the price of a pint down the pub. Terrifying.

When Ms Smith talks about how they will protect the data the ID system will store, she manages to confuse me as to how it will work:

 The way in which we are designing the National Identity Register, with separate databases holding personal biographic details physically and technologically separately from biometric fingerprints and photographs, will greatly reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosures of information being used to damaging effect. …(followed by)…  I should make it clear that none of the databases will be online, so it won’t be possible to hack into them. [BBC transcript]

Now call me an old fashioned security professional, but there is a bit here that makes sense. By preventing people from getting access to the data you really do reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosure. However, and this shows more madness, if huge segments of society can’t access the data it is useless. The idea as I see it is that you go into the bank to open an account and show them your ID card. They scan it and compare it to the record of you. If it matches you get account. Seems easy, except now it looks like the bank wont have access and even if they did there is an air gap between the two technologies.

How is it supposed to work?

Lastly (phew, I hear you cry), the introduction by stealth. This shows the government KNOW this is an unpopular idea and it would never get off the ground if they tried to roll it out now. Instead they are going to play on the “white working class fear” of the Evil Immigrants by making them carry ID cards (why not force them to carry a sign round…(**)). What effect this will have is beyond me because if I was an immigrant and challenged by “authority” I would simply say I wasn’t an immigrant. Prove me wrong. Next come the “UK citizens and EU nationals who work in ‘sensitive’ airport jobs” who already carry ID cards and aren’t likely to complain, but again the question is “why?” Finally in 2011 it will be an opt-out option on passport renewals. Passports already have biometric data and are acceptable as proof of ID the world over. Why do we need another form of ID?

That is it in a nutshell, though. Why on Earth do we need another form of ID?

(*) remembering to account for the error bars of partial fingerprint matches when you have a database of 60+ million entries, and hoping the criminals are too stupid to wear gloves…

(**) Hmm. This seems familiar. I wonder why…

Baseless Creationist Arguments Find a New Home

Blimey, yesterday, Heather wrote about some empty nonsense being spouted by a blog on the atheist blogroll. In a nutshell, Tom Stelene, writing on the Al-Kafir Akbar blog, has spent a few days recently, ranting about how environmentalism is a “secular religion,” how global warming is a scam, how people who care about about the environment are dirt worshippers and so on. Over the last few days, Heather, Blacksun Journal and Salient have drawn attention to the nonsense he spouts.

Sunrise in AutumnTom Stelene has tried a comeback blast with a post titled “Deniers” (Blog Action Day Continues), and it is well worth reading if only to see the logical holes presented as “argument” and the good rebuttals from BlackSun and Salient. They have both done an excellent job of taking his nonsense to task.

Not being grown up enough to be bothered engaging in reasoned debate, I am simply going to point out some of the more obvious bits of nonsense Tom has turned into bits on the internet. Fisking is fun. If we start with the opening paragraph:

Amidst the latest politically-correct trend of environmentalists to throw out the smear, “global warming deniers,” I sense that by and large they probably have little familiarity with the science and reasoning as to why some deny “global warming” – as most narrow-minded religionists are unfamiliar with the reasons and arguments of atheists – or, better still: “God-deniers.”

Sunrise in Autumn 2By Toutatis, that is a difficult sentence to read. It is completely meaningless but it is still difficult to read. It makes a single attempt at a real claim and, personally, I doubt that this (basic) claim is true. If he is saying, as it seems to read, that his detractors have little understanding as to the science about why the detractors deny global warming. After the headache (caused by trying to resolve this tortured line of attribution) cleared, I decided he must be talking about the psychological reasoning as to why some people will pathologically deny the evidence which is presented to them and disproportionately give value to the minority evidence which can be interpreted as arguing against the mainstream. I am sure that there is a term for people who evince this weird behavioural trait, but I am not a psychologist so I have no idea. Generally, most of the people who do this seem to be arguing for the creationist brand of woo.

After I realised where I had seen this idiotic type of “argument” before, it suddenly became clear that pretty much all of Tom’s “arguments” against AGW fall from the Intelligent Design is Science school of idiocy. Blimey. Loki must have been having a field day letting this one out into humanity.

Tom claims his area of expertise is philosophy, so we can look at the first type of argument he uses and critique it with a philosophical point of view attached.

Swan in flight - Vignette addedOne of his oft-repeated claims is that those who advocate action to combat human-influenced climate change are following a “secular religion” – he uses such entertaining terms as “dirt worshippers” and so on. All very clever. This is the same as the ID / Creationist claims that “Darwinism” is a religion. The reality however is different.

Religion, in its normal use of the term, tends to mean people are holding to a belief either without any evidence or will hold to the belief in the face of evidence to the contrary. In keeping with the creationists, Tom holds to his beliefs without any evidence and retains the belief in the face of contrary evidence. Yet he still claims it is his detractors who are holding to a religion. Yeah, seems odd to me as well.

The next issue I have with his claims is, still in keeping with the creationist ideal, the idea that the isolated – often badly interpreted – data which may be interpreted as contradicting Anthropogenic Global Warming is so significant and Earth shattering it means more than the mountains of data which support AGW. Here Tom shows he doesn’t understand science – something he freely admits – and really should try to learn some more before demonstrating his ignorance. The fact of the matter is there is nearly always some data published which can be interpreted as contradicting a scientific theory.

Little Burrowing MammalMost of the time this data is the result of experimental issues – poorly designed experiments, mistaken conclusions, equipment issues and so on – but some times the data is valid and does pose a contradiction. What happens next is part of the broader scientific method – something Tom seems to neglect – the data is double checked, additional experiments are conducted and, if it is verified and repeated, the theory is adjusted to account for the new information. Despite the greatest wishes (and prayers) of the creationists, isolated findings do not count as evidential falsification. Likewise, Tom has fallen into the layperson’s trap of finding isolated contrary reports and attributing to these much greater weight than they deserve.

Here is a quick quiz question: If 99 reports conclude humans are responsible for climate change and one doesn’t, which should you go with?

The most blatant example of Creationist-Inspired woo-nonsense comes in this little gem:

Precisely because science is not my area (that being philosophy) I have to carefully consider both sides, and for some twenty years as a curious observer (if man causes global environmental problems I obviously want to know) I have read and listened to environmentalist claims – which get plenty of publicity – yet the science that challenges them gets ignored.

Chimpanzee on a TreeThis is seriously worthy of some further examination. It reeks of the same lack of understanding which tries to push ID into the classroom. There are not “two sides” to the argument (if anything there are dozens), so considering “both sides” is meaningless. In the past, I have commented on the debate problem which creates the illusion there are “both sides” regarding evolutionary theory. It seems the same fallacy applies with regards to AGW.

The idea that some one completely ignorant of the methodology and theories of climate science can accurately assess the validity of any competing theories (and there are dozens) is interesting – strictly speaking the layperson can go through the published data and draw their own conclusions, but the chances of that conclusion being a valid expression of the reality are not great. It would be better for Tom to say that, because science is not his area he would be better off listening to the scientific consensus.

For my, cynical, mindset, the reason why he has not gone down this route is borne out by the last part of that sentence. It reeks of the conspiracy-theories pushed by all kinds of deviant scientists.

“…yet the science that challenges them gets ignored.”

Utter nonsense. The “science” that challenges the various AGW theories is not “ignored” by any stretch of the imagination. Where science does challenge the theory it is investigated – sadly most of the claims of “science” which challenges turn out to be bad science at best. This, as with most of Tom’s arguments, is straight from the ID School of non-science. When people from wildly unrelated scientific disciplines (at best, often it is complete non-scientists) write a pile of nonsense about Evolution / AGW, it is quite rightly ignored. The pro-ID / Anti-AGW crowd then pick on this nonsense and scream about some hidden cabal who are suppressing the “alternative theories.” Total nonsense.

If some one can prove AGW is false they will be in line for the Nobel, along with all the people who can invent perpetual motion machines, prove ID, falsify GR, falsify SR etc., etc.,

Until then, science is science. You can rail against the findings all you want, but remember it is akin to shouting at the sun that your “research” shows it should be dark…

Abandoned babies

Finding a new-born baby in a bag on your doorstep seems to be becoming a minor hazard. Today, one was found in Birmingham. One was found in Liverpool on 25 September. South Lanarkshire on 7th August. A stillborn baby was found in Hackney in April.

It’s not just the UK. A Times article reported that Italian hospitals had introduced a higher tech version of the foundling wheel – a device that lets mothers deposit babies where they could be found – in response to rising numbers. Germany and Japan have “baby hatches”

Baby abandoning is very rare. So you can’t really identify a trend here. Granted, there are always going to be mentally disturbed or desperate or stupid women. There are always going to be individual lives that are tragic. All the same, it bears examination. Typically, mammals abandon their babies under extreme survival stress.. This explanation applies in many parts of the world where lack of access to contraception compound the effect of living on the edge of survival.

So, why is this happening in the richest countries in the world? In Western Europe, an unwillingly pregnant woman can get access to abortion. There are adoption agencies that can’t find enough babies for people who want them. There are a whole range of social and medical services that should enable a child to stay with its mother.

It seems to me that one thing that could contribute to ever higher numbers of abandoned babies is the Fortress Europe mentality. Access to health and social services is increasingly denied to the people who fall under the radar – failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

Ever-tightening ID nets – where access to services depends on ID, as discussed last week – mean that more and more people live in an invisible underclass in the UK. The health impacts include increasing numbers of people without access to basic health care. Which includes contraception, abortion and maternity services.

The consequences could be much more wide-reaching than a potential rise in the numbers of dead and abandoned babies and greater maternal mortality (horrible as these are). What about communicable diseases? Do you really want people without the right ID documents to get treatment to be spreading TB around your neighbourhood?

Public health is public health. Circumscribing access to public health services might seem like a wise move in terms of short-term economic targets. It might make the Daily Mail readership feel that their tax money isn’t being spent on people they don’t want to support. So, there are political forces impelling this sort of exclusionary policy. But it is basically demented.

Medical staff aren’t deliberately not treating socially-invisible people. The system is doing the rationing for them. If you lack an entitlement card, you won’t see a doctor.

The cost of restricting entitlement is much greater than the cost of providing the treatments. Surely, a system could be devised that was flexible enough to stop exploitative health tourism without marginalising people.

Call me as selfish as you like, but I would rather take the chance that the odd illegal immigrant gets their bunions treated courtesy of my tax pounds than that I contract cholera or Ebola because the system offers no point of entry for a sick person.

“Web 2.0, or just Stasi?”

The title is quoted from the Register, in a post entitled “UK ID card service mounts birth, marriage, death landgrab” (The clue is in the title. )

The UK Identity & Passport Service (IPS) has staged an identity landgrab on birth, marriage and death records. From April 2008 the General Register Office, which is responsible for recording these matters and is currently a directorate of the Office of National Statistics, is to become part of IPS, meaning that IPS will be logging you from the moment you’re born until the moment you die.

Not only is the previously respected General Register office about to disappear into the gaping maw of the Orwellian Identity ministry, but its data will now feed

into the somewhat more chilling notion of of a continually updated life record. So was that Web 2.0, or just Stasi?
Considering the new owners, it’s now pretty clear which it is. (The Register, 11th October 2007)

Today, the Treasury announced its plan for cutting out all “avoidable contact” between the public and government services. Partly this consists of shutting down government websites and merging their information into one uber-website for citizens and one for businesses. It also involves minimising the chances that you might get to speak to a human being in the dole office or tax office. It’s supposed to be based on “customer journey mapping” which is supposed to be so successful in the private sector.

I assume that the government ministers and senior civil servants have other people to do their shopping for them. Otherwise they might know what a “customer journey” is like in the real world. There are few activities more infuriating than trying to get an answer to a nonstandard question from a phone-line that tells you how important your call is. Unless you count a call-centre operator with a preset script and limited understanding of any regional accent. Or a website that throws away all the details you have laboriously typed in after hours of searching through pages that were delivered over the Internet at a speed that would embarrass a partly squashed slug.

What does this whole new world of applying customer service principles mean for the UK citizen then? Well basically, yes, you’ve guessed it, extending their data sharing between departments. More ID.

Making better use of the customer information the public sector already holds. The types of transformation covered by this Agreement will simply not be possible unless the public sector can establish the identity of the customer it is dealing with simply and with certainty, and be able to pass relevant information between different parts of government. (The Treasury paper, 11th October 2007)

Bull.

Page 19 of the Treasury document says

MAKING BETTER USE OF THE CUSTOMER INFORMATION THE PUBLIC SECTOR ALREADY HOLDS
3.34 This is a highly complex challenge which will not be entirely solved within the CSR07 period. The public sector can, however, make progress:
• at a strategic level; with the work being lead by the Home Office (on identity management) and by the Ministry of Justice (on information sharing). …
• at a tactical level by tackling these issues within the context of specific projects, most importantly “Tell Us Once”. ….. In addition to “Tell Us Once” the Government will also sponsor and facilitate other specific projects including the Free School Meals pilot which is already
underway …………

This is all boring stuff. The social consequences of applying mad business models to delivering public services makes your eyes start to droop. I know. I feel just the same.

The writers know that peppering documents with enough empty phrases like “the context of specific projects” and “strategic” and “tactical” and “facilitate pilots” will switch us off. This stops us seeing the content.

The No2ID campaign makes the same point as the Register, mentioning “Stasi files. ”

In your face, bungling amateurs in the Stasi. The UK government can teach you a thing or two.