Saturday, January 31, 2015

Lost in space dust

Remember the detection of signs of gravity waves which supported the cosmic inflation hypothesis of the early universe?

Well that claim has been retracted.
Scientists who made headlines last March by announcing that they'd found long-sought evidence about the early universe are now abandoning that claim.
New data show that their cosmic observations no longer back up that conclusion, they say.
The original announcement caused a sensation because it appeared to show evidence that the universe ballooned rapidly a split-second after its birth, in what scientist call cosmic inflation. That idea had been widely believed, but researchers had hoped to bolster it by finding a particular trait in light left over from the very early universe.
That signal is what the researchers claimed they had found in observations of the sky taken from the South Pole, in a project called BICEP2.
But now, in a new paper submitted for publication, "we are effectively retracting the claim," said Brian Keating of the University of California, San Diego, a member of the BICEP2 team.
Why? The signals of the alleged gravity wave might have been dust, instead.
In essence, Keating said, the analysis shows that the source of the signal observed by BICEP2 isn't necessarily the very early universe. Instead, it's equally likely to have come from dust in our galaxy, which would mean it does not provide the evidence BICEP2 had claimed.
That possibility had been raised by other scientists soon after the announcement last March. When the BICEP2 team published its results in June it acknowledged it might have been fooled by the dust, but it still stood by its initial conclusions.
A fuller explanation is here.

Read more here:

Read more here:

Progress in philosophy: Phil Index edition

I'm ancient enough to remember when Philosopher's Index required you to peruse two volumes of listings to find the abstract of an article---two physical, paper volumes, that is, (one for listings under subject and another under author or journal) and the abstracts weren't always available. So this development, flagged by Justin, is nifty:
The Philosopher’s Index, an academic philosophy database available through the libraries of many universities and colleges, is rolling out a service that contains not merely abstracts (which it has long featured), but the full text of its indexed articles, according to a recent press release. Called “The Philosopher’s Index with Full Text,” it provides articles from approximately 200 journals. An assistant editor with the project, Dr. Anne Seshadri, is quoted in the press release:
Scholars get immediate access to the articles they are seeking, with the full text available within the citation, along with rich bibliographic records, complete and accurate citations, detailed abstracts by authors and quality indexing by philosophers. Nowhere else can researchers find all this in a single philosophy database.
When I tell my students about days when finding an article required hauling volumes of Phil Index to a table in the reference section of the library (lit by kerosene lanterns, they probably think), then to whatever lower basement floor had the bound journals, then back to the upstairs floor where the copier was (not a monk with a quill, as the students probably think, but a xerox machine) where, with a fistful of dimes and quarters fed into a slot on the side of the machine you could copy the article, they smile at me tolerantly, waiting for what they think is the next story, like when I drank Aristotle under the table, or helped Spinoza grind his lenses.

Whether or not philosophy makes progress, doing philosophy certainly has, with technology allowing philosophical research, reading and writing to be notably easier.

Friday, January 30, 2015

False confessions to non-existent crimes

So it seems that not only will people confess to crimes they did not commit, they will readily confess to crimes that never happened.
[a] first-of-its-kind study shows that it could — easily. With a little misinformation, encouragement and three hours, researchers were able to convince 70 percent of the study's participants that they'd committed a crime.
And the college-aged students who participated in the study didn't merely confess — they recalled full-blown, detailed experiences, says lead researcher Julia Shaw, a lecturer in forensic psychology from the University of Bedfordshire. The results were "definitely unexpected," says Shaw, who predicted only a 30 percent rate.
What did the researchers do to their subjects to get them to confess? Lock them in a closet for three days? Deprive them of sleep and feed them drugs? Nope. They just talked to them for three 45 minute sessions.
Shaw and Stephen Porter, a forensic psychologist at the University of British Columbia, first got a few facts about the faux criminal's teen years — the name of her best friend, hometown, etc. — from parents or a guardian. (An ethical committee said it was OK.) Then, during three 45-minute interviews, Shaw extracted information from the students about one true experience (which they remembered) and one fabricated experience (of which she convinced them).
After a few hours of feeding the students tidbits of the verified info, she added them up to equal her fabricated crime — and a majority of students were persuaded: They were criminals.
One student, when told she had assaulted a classmate in her teens, "elaborately" filled in all the blanks: what weapon she used (a rock), what the argument was over (a boy), what she was having for dinner when the police came looking for her — even the color of the officers' hair.
Fascinating stuff. Here's the abstract of the paper, pubished in Psychological Science.
Memory researchers long have speculated that certain tactics may lead people to recall crimes that never occurred, and thus could potentially lead to false confessions. This is the first study to provide evidence suggesting that full episodic false memories of committing crime can be generated in a controlled experimental setting. With suggestive memory-retrieval techniques, participants were induced to generate criminal and noncriminal emotional false memories, and we compared these false memories with true memories of emotional events. After three interviews, 70% of participants were classified as having false memories of committing a crime (theft, assault, or assault with a weapon) that led to police contact in early adolescence and volunteered a detailed false account. These reported false memories of crime were similar to false memories of noncriminal events and to true memory accounts, having the same kinds of complex descriptive and multisensory components. It appears that in the context of a highly suggestive interview, people can quite readily generate rich false memories of committing crime.
 There is a rich literature on false memories, with the work of Elizabeth Loftus paving the way. There is also long experience with false confessors---people who confess to notorious crimes, and as well, a proven track record of the unreliability of criminal confessions. This experiment ties these threads together.

Driving to freedom

Yes, I agree that car culture has many pathologies, not all of them environmental, but consider the implications of entitling men, but not women, to drive. Not in Saudi Arabia, but in the US. In New York state.2015.
 I grew up in a small, densely populated village in upstate New York called Kiryas Joel. And in Kiryas Joel, woman don’t drive. It’s a village of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews. In my hometown, women can't be jailed for driving like they can in Saudi Arabia. But driving is still forbidden. A woman who drives would risk being shunned, and her children expelled from the private Hasidic school. She could be excommunicated from the community.
Growing up, it never dawned on me that driving was a possibility. No woman in my family or neighborhood ever did. We were taught that our tznius, our modesty, would be at stake. But I think there’s something else. For Hasidic women, being banned from the wheel means being tied to your husband and to your community. Driving gives you the keys to freedom and independence.
Exactly so. Now, there are non-driving communities, say, among the Amish, but the restriction against driving applies both to men and women, and of course, Amish women as well as men drive the buggies. In Kiryas Joel, the only buggies for women are baby buggies.

Christianist terrorists

Even as GOP controlled state legislatures compete with each other to impose more and more restrictions on abortion, anti-abortion activists are sharply increasing terror tactics    threats against abortion providers.
  [t]hreats of violence against abortion providers have doubled since 2010.
The survey of 242 abortion providers in the United States found that there has been significantly higher levels of threats and targeted intimidation of doctors and staff in recent years. The report comes as widespread intimidation tactics were deployed against clinics during the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision affirming a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
More than 500 plastic handcuffs placed inside “care packages” were reportedly delivered to abortion clinics throughout the country last week, according to The Christian Post. The packages were sent by the anti-choice organization Pro-Life Action League.
The packages included a postcard mentioning the recent arrest of Naresh Patel, an Oklahoma physician, and the ominous handwritten message: “Could you be next?”
Patel was arrested in December and charged with racketeering and three counts of obtaining money by false pretenses, according to reporting by the Oklahoman. An undercover investigation found that Patel was providing abortion-inducing drugs to patients without verifying that they were pregnant.
The message was written by Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. “I thought this could really be a strong message to abortionists who really think seriously about the business that they’re involved in,” Scheidler told The Christian Post.
Pro-Life Action League received assistance in mailing the packages from the radical anti-choice organization Operation Rescue, whose members identified the clinics across the country that received the packages.
The use of similar intimidation techniques is on the rise, according to the National Clinic Violence Survey, conducted by the Feminist Majority Foundation. The report is the first comprehensive nationwide survey of violence at women’s health clinics since 2010.
The survey found that nearly one in five clinics experienced severe violence. Severe types of anti-choice violence affected 19.7 percent of clinics nationwide, down from the 23.5 percent of clinics nationwide that reported experiencing severe violence in 2010.
Incidents of wanted-style posters of abortion providers, pamphlets targeting doctors and clinic staff, and harmful information and pictures of doctors posted on the Internet have all significantly increased over the past four years, according to the report. The posters and flyers often include phrases like “Killers Among Us,” “Wanted For Killing,” and “Stop This Abortionist Now.”
The rate of clinics reporting stalking of physicians has also increased, from 6.4 percent of clinics in 2010 to 8.7 percent in 2014.
But no worries. These are religious people, deeply devoted to the tenets and practices of their faith. Surely they pose no threat.*

(*Please note sarcasm.**)
(**The sarcasm involves the claim that these are religious people. They're not. They are indignant, resentful people, using the language of their sacred texts to cloak their thuggery.)

(h/t Jezebel; the 2014 NCAP survey is here.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The upside to fake academic publishing

What's really positive about fake academic publishing is how multicultural the fake journals are. Take this one, for example, which sent me a call for papers some spam this morning. Its listed international advisory board really does take you on a trip around the world (if South America were not part of the world.)
Paul C. Stumb, PhD, Professor, Labry School of Business and Technology, Cumberland University, USA

Charles R.B. Stowe, PhD, Dean, College of Business and Public Affairs, Lander University, USA

Dr. Alexandros G. Psychogios, Academic Research Coordinator, University of Sheffield, Greece

Dr. Qin Xiao, University of Aberdeen Business Schoo, United Kingdom

Lars Kolvereid, Professor, Bodo Graduate School of Business, Norway

Daniel Zeghal, PhD, FCGA, Welch & Co.LLP, Professor of Accounting, Director of CGA-Accounting Research Center, Telfer School of Management, University of Ottaw, Canada

Dr Masood Sarwar Awan, Assistant Professor & Coordinator MPhil & PhD Programme, University of Sargodha, Sargodha, Pakistan

Dr. Sanja Ivic, University of Belgrade, Serbia.

Dr. Farah Malik, Chair, Department of Psychology, GC University, Lahore, Pakistan.

Dr. Aybike S. ERTIKE, PhD. Beykent University, Turkey.

Dr. Eja lwara Eja, Department of Geography and Regional Planning, University of Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria.

Abhishek Kumar, Assistant Professor, Bharathidasan Institute of Management, Bharathidasan University, India.

Dr. Nahla A. Al-Rifai, Assistant Professor,Environmental Technology Management Department, College for Women,Kuwait University, Kuwait.

Dr. Md. Abdul Jalil, Associate Professor, Department of Business Administration, Faculty of Economics and Management, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), Jalan Gombak, Selangor, Malaysia.

Dr. Liang-Xin Li, Professor, Hunan International Economics University, China.

Dr. Mustafa Shazali Mustafa Ahmed, Associate Professor, Valley University, Sudan.

Ma Zhongfa, Law School, Fudan University, 2005 Songhu Road, Shanghai 200438, China.

Dr Sibylle Heilbrunn, Deaprtment of Business Administration, Ruppin Academic Center, Israel.

Dr. Che Mohd Zulkifli Che Omar, Sultan Idris Education University, Malaysia.

Prof Abdalla Mohammad Khataybeh, Yarmouk University, Faculty of Education, Department of Curriculla and Instruction, Jordan.

Dr. Talat Afza,  Professor and Head of Academics, COMSATS  Institute of Information Technology, Lahore Pakisatn.

Dr. Figen Ebren, Assistant Professor, Akdeniz University, Turkey.

Zhao Shuyan, English Department, School of Humanities and Law, North College of Beijing University of Chemical Technology, Chına.
Checking the US listings, I find that there really is a Paul Stumb, Dean and Professor at Cumberland University, and Charles Stowe is at Lander University as Assistant Vice President for Development, Program Coordinator, Master's Emergency Management, Professor of Management.

Today's scam "call for papers" email came from Wimer Billiea (google found no results) using a address. The e mail was signed by Dr. Andrew Lessard, The Chief Editor, American International Journal of Contemporary Research, whose only relevant google results under that name come back to AIJCR.

It is possible that these people's names and identities have been hijacked by the operators of this scam journal; if so, it would be wise of them to take action.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dementia, diphenhydramine, and dosing

Here's an 'oh-dear' moment in today's news:
 Over-the-counter sleeping aids and hayfever treatments can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a study has found. The sleeping medication Nytol and anti-allergy pills Benadryl and Piriton all belong to a class of drug highlighted in a warning from researchers.
Each of these drugs has “anticholinergic” blocking effects on the nervous system that are said – at higher doses – to raise the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia significantly over several years.
I must already have dementia, because when I read this:

The findings showed that people taking at least 10mg per day of doxepin, 4mg per day of diphenhydramine (Nytol, Benadryl) or 5mg per day of oxybutynin (Ditropan) for more than three years were at an increased risk of developing dementia.Available substitutes that did not have anticholinergic effects included selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants such as Prozac and newer anti-histamine allergy treatments including loratadine (Claritin), said Gray.
I got confused. Diphenhydramine (benadryl) comes in 25 mg. tablets and the standard dosing is one or two tablets (25-50 mg.) every 4-6 hours, with different total daily amounts, ranging from 150-400 mg., for different ailments. So I mustered all the powers that my addled brain could produce and found this account of the same study:
For instance, the most commonly used medications in the study were tricyclic antidepressants like doxepin (Sinequan), first-generation antihistamines like chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), and antimuscarinics for bladder control like oxybutynin (Ditropan). The study estimated that people taking at least 10 mg/day of doxepin, 4 mg/day of chlorpheniramine, or 5 mg/day of oxybutynin for more than three years would be at greater risk for developing dementia. Dr. Gray said substitutes are available for the first two: a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) like citalopram (Celexa) or fluoxitene (Prozac) for depression and a second-generation antihistamine like loratadine (Claritin) for allergies. It's harder to find alternative medications for urinary incontinence, but some behavioral changes can reduce this problem. [my bolding]
The standard dose for  chlorpheniramine is indeed 4 mg (every 4-6 hours, maximum daily dose 32 mg). So the writers for sources like the Guardian and the bbc got their antihistamines confused. Are they copying from each other, or from some common, mistaken, ur-source?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Corporate promises to workers not binding: Supremes

When is a promise not binding? According to the Supremes, when it is made by a corporation in a workers' contract:
 The Supreme Court cast doubt Monday on the future of old union contracts that had promised lifetime health benefits for retired workers and their families.
In a case seen as a victory for corporate America, the justices ruled that those promises are not "vested" rights unless they are spelled out in "clear and express language." And if they are not, they may be canceled when a new contract takes effect, the court said.
 In the unanimous opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas chided lower-court judges who upheld the retiree benefits, citing "traditional principle that courts should not construe ambiguous writings to create lifetime promises."
In decades past, union contracts often included a promise from the employer to pay for healthcare, even after the worker's retirement. But as healthcare costs rose and companies changed hands, new owners objected to paying the benefits far into the future. They argued that the contracts applied only to the term of the agreements and not beyond.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Assn. of Manufacturers backed an appeal from the owners of a West Virginia polyester plant who objected to paying benefits to workers who had retired in 1996.
Their contract, negotiated by the United Steelworkers Union, promised a "full company contribution" to their health benefits. But in 2006, M&G Polymers, the new owners of the plant, said the retirees must contribute to the cost of their health benefits.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the company's appeal, and on Monday set aside the lower-court ruling that favored the retired workers.
Thomas told the lower court to take another look at the contract and to do so without "placing a thumb on the scale in favor of vested retired benefits." He noted that federal law protects promised pensions, but it does not require employers to provide future benefits for healthcare.
No, contract law as the Supremes interpret it now requires placing two thumbs and a sack of concrete on the scale in favor of whatever our corporate overlords say is in their current interest.