2006-01-29

Religion and Science (2)

Continuing a previous post...

A recent report indicates that "Just under half of Britons accept the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life, according to an opinion poll. Furthermore, more than 40% of those questioned believe that creationism or intelligent design (ID) should be taught in school science lessons."

In a 2005 Gallup poll, 53% of US citizens said they believed the Biblical account of human origins to be true.

Even when evolutionary theory is not completely incompatible with religion (e.g. Darwin himself was religious), it seems that a great part of the public is against it... In the UK, people over 55 are more likely to be on that side. It is true that deep rooted beliefs take time (in generations) to change, but still, the question remains: Is science doing something wrong in the divulgation of evolutionary theory? Or it is just that religion has PR you can't fight against with?

I mean, evolutionary theory does not imply that God doesn't exist, nor most (socially useful) teachings. Moreover, David Sloan Wilson, in his book Darwin's Cathedral : Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society uses evolutionary theory to explain the benefits of religions to societies: they promote social cohesion, cooperation, punish free riders, etc. So, societies with a religion of certain properties have better chances of survival. The only thing that evolutionary theory puts into question is the strict interpretation of the Genesis. If you take the Genesis as a metaphor, then there's no conflict. And the evidence for evolution just can't be ingored.

On the other hand, that is not the only, nor the most important, thing in the Bible that cannot be taken literally. The story of the word "virgin" being mistranslated from the hebrew "young woman" is not so popular, but it implies that the birth of Jesus wasn't a miracle. Still, this does not contradict his teachings. I mean, we don't really need the mystical aspect of history. And if somebody wants it, well, let it be. But it's silly to argue over it. The world doesn't need more holy wars. Just tolerate the beliefs of others in the things that cannot be proved, and accept the things that have been proved.

Summarizing, what I am saying is that evolutionary theory should be accepted by the general public, because it does not threaten the socially important aspects of any religion. I think that if somebody puts his/her beliefs (i.e. those that cannot be proven right or wrong) over those of others, that somebody falls into fanatism, independently of his/her religion.

2006-01-23

My name is Carlos and I have a problem...

Internet Addiction, by Ahumada

Shrinks came up with a new buzzword: internet addiction disorder. Well, isn't it a bit too late? Who isn't addicted to it nowadays?

It turns out that our brain releases dopamine when we get new mail... so it feels good, and we want more, and more, and MORE!!! ...until we can't live without it... and we feel depressed if we don't have our fix.

But then, everything that brings pleasure potentailly can also cause addiction, doesn't it? I mean, I am cleary addicted to my wife, to tasty food, etc. The question is: when does an addiction/dependency become a social problem?

I mean, food addiction certainly poses a serious health problem in certain McCountries, but nobody would dream of prohibiting food. Then, could campaings against excesses in food, Internet, pornography, etc., be used against drugs? I know they are not at the same level, with the argument that these addictions do not affect the mental faculties of people... but on the other hand alcohol does affect it, and it's legal...

And then there's also the quesiton of "freedom of choice" (it's my life and I do what I want with it, why do you put limits to my life?)... With drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, it is clear that the limits are set because of the potential danger to fellow citizens posed by drug users. But how can Internet addiction affect fellow citizens? It certainly can affect performance at work and destroy personal relationships (what are you doing checking google news instead of speaking tenderly to your loved one?!), but what could the state do about this? Because certainly you can't just forbid or limit Internet use! The same you cannot set sex limits, even when this may affect performance at work, health problems, whatever... The same with food...

It's a complex question... Possible solution: education... and of course marketing and savage captialism don't help in here. All sources of pleasure are a potential market niche, since people will be willing to pay for them. And then, for companies exploiting the pleasures of people all excesses will be admissible... It is only through education that people can resist to such manipulations. Every one of us needs to learn when to say "stop! I've had enough..."

Read more at news.independent.co.uk/...

2006-01-11

Why Impact Factor is obsolete...

"Journal Status"
Authors: Johan Bollen, Marko A. Rodriguez, Herbert Van de Sompel
Abstract:
The status of an actor in a social context is commonly defined in terms of two factors: the total number of endorsements the actor receives from other actors and the prestige of the endorsing actors. These two factors indicate the distinction between popularity and expert appreciation of the actor, respectively. We refer to the former as popularity and to the latter as prestige. These notions of popularity and prestige also apply to the domain of scholarly assessment. The ISI Impact Factor (ISI IF) is defined as the mean number of citations a journal receives over a 2 year period. By merely counting the amount of citations and disregarding the prestige of the citing journals, the ISI IF is a metric of popularity, not of prestige. We demonstrate how a weighted version of the popular PageRank algorithm can be used to obtain a metric that reflects prestige. We contrast the rankings of journals according to their ISI IF and their weighted PageRank, and we provide an analysis that reveals both significant overlaps and differences. Furthermore, we introduce the Y-factor which is a simple combination of both the ISI IF and the weighted PageRank, and find that the resulting journal rankings correspond well to a general understanding of journal status.

Full paper at arxiv.org/abs/cs/0601030

2006-01-10

Overwhelmed by Choice?

Many people complain that nowadays there is too much choice. 20 ways of having your coffee, 50 types of ketchup, ten political parties in countries of less than 10 million...
I agree that in many cases the choice can be overwhelming, but I think that the solution is not to eliminate diversity. The variety (in most cases) is there for a reason: Contextuality. Our society has become so diverse, that people coming from different contexts need different things. In the past, people were more localized, so that they had to learn only the customs of their town or city. Now we need to learn the ways of the world. But since we all learn different aspects of it, we end up with different worldviews. And if there is a variety in the population, there needs to be a variety in the social institutions serving it (Ashby dixit). Vegans DO fly in airplanes...

On the other hand, too much choice overloads our cognitive abilities. Fifty years ago, George Miller published a paper showing that people tended to be able to keep in their minds only seven plus-minus two things at a time. In other words, after more or less seven types of fries, we lose track of what is going on...

But if there is a necessity for the variety, the solution should lie in making the information cognitively accessible, e.g. grouping similar objects in categories to choose from, and afterwards choose within categories... well, that is what everybody does. Imagine if we would browse Amazon.com and there would be no categories! But it seems this is not enough for all cases. Search engines can help in the cyberworld, but what about the supermarket? What about politics? There is no easy answer, but my feeling is that systems could be developed to aid the cognitive decision making... something along the lines of what Marko Rodriguez and Dan Steinbock propose in their paper "Societal-Scale Decision Making Using Social Networks"...

2006-01-06

Why I'm Happy I Evolved

Great article by Olivia Judson on evolution...

Read more at www.nytimes.com/2006/01...