29 June 2011

A creationist professor from Warwick University

I discovered this video, by Prof. Steve Fuller, Sociology, Warwick University. The video is full of nonsense. E.g.,

1:50: "Very few practicing biologists claim to believe in intelligent design"

Why would a practicing biologist, or any scientist for that matter, believe in something, especially if this something is silly, like creationism? Actually, I can add to the above profound statement: Very few practicing biologists believe in unicorns.

But the worst point of the video, starts at 2:00 and has to do with Fuller trying to justify why creationism (intelligent design) should be taught at schools: He claims that it has to do with motivating students who nowadays won't try to learn something unless it has a practical or technical value. He implies that creationism (intelligent design) provides a motivation and this is why it should be embedded in biology classes (and not only--I suppose).

Can you find other stoopid things in this video?

P.S. Steve Fuller is American. Therefore he may have different reasons for promoting creationism. He was also educated by the Jesuits. (Religion, once under your skin, is hard to get rid of.)

26 June 2011

(Some of the) funny aspects of the Academy of Athens, II

I continue with another hilarious example about a member of the Academy of Athens. One of its members is a theoretical physicist who is known, in Greece, by a large number of common people, people who have nothing to do with physics or science. I've heard his name being mentioned by taxi drivers, manicurists and air hostesses, among others. He is, according to these people, the greatest scientist of all times.

His name is Dimitri Nanopoulos. But how come everyone knows him? On what basis do these people know this academician? Why is he so popular? Is he a popularizer of science? Some time ago I searched to find what's going on. I was very surpised when a mainstream Greek newspaper had a full-page dedicated to the advertisment of a car (Lexus) together with a picture of the aforementioned academician. Fair enough, I thought, he's trying to make some (more) money. But then I read the following phrase below his photo:
Professor Nanopoulos has achieved international reputation. Doing research mainly in Cosmology and High Energy Physics, he is considered today one of the four greatest theoretical physicists of all times.

Just as the distinguished theoretical physicist methodically "besieges" the next scientific revolution, so does Lexus constantly seeks perfection.
So, let's see: Newton, Einstein, Maxwell, and Nanopoulos. What about Richard Feynman, Freeman Dyson, Lev Landau, Henri Poincare, ... , ... ? Well, according to the Lexus advertisement, there is no doubt. The set must contain 4 people. One of them is Nanopoulos.

But where does this claim come from, and what does it mean? I looked further.  According to wikipedia,
He is one of the most regularly cited researchers in the world, cited more than 35,800 times over across a number of separate branches of science.
So, perhaps, the phrase "greatest number of citations" has been changed to "greatest scientist". Is that so? Does number of citations necessarily mean greateness? Yes, says Nanopoulos.

Shortly after the advertisement appeared in several Greek newspapers, in a public letter, 12 emminent Greek physicists write:
[Nanopoulos] knows well that such comments are at the border of being ridiculous, provocatively insulting one's intelligence, and denigrate the Greek scientific community.
Moreover, the 12 scientists ask the president of Greece to be careful when appointing such a self-bragging person to positions of responsibility, such as the president of the Council of Research and Technology (and others).

Nanopoulos replied by characterizing the authors of the letter as "scientists" [i.e. scientists in quotes], and mentioned that people like Al Gore also advertize various products [yes, but Gore is not a scientist]. He also said:
Regarding my achievements in the domain of science, I attach my CV as well as a comparative table of my works and citations, without comment.
In the attached table, he lists the total number of citations to the 12 other scientists (26862) and compares it to the number of citations to his own papers (31412). Therefore [he implies], I am better than the sum of all these other "scientists".

There is another comparison he makes, and this is ridiculous. It concerns the so-called h-index:
A scientist has index h if h of [his/her] Np papers have at least h citations each, and the other (Np − h) papers have at most h citations each.
This silly measure of success was devised several years ago and is taken seriously by lazy administrators, but not by scientists. It is well known (i) that citations alone do not measure one's greateness and (ii) that it is not too hard to boost up one's citations by forming alliances. Moreover, not all citations are necessarily positive (I can cite a paper for its wrong results). However, not only has the h-index (and a variety of other indices) has been glorified, but a "science" has also been formed, the so-called Bibliometrics or Scientometrics. For instance, it is not hard to find papers looking at statistics of indices and "mathematics" of indices. The drive to summarize one's achievements by a single number has thus provided jobs to many other people who can now write papers on citation indices, thereby increasing their own citations!

A good critique of the lunacy around the h-index and other bibliometrical concepts is the paper "Citation Statistics", by Robert Adler, John Ewing and Peter Taylor, a report from the International Mathematical Union (IMU) in cooperation with the International Council of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM) and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS):
The drive towards more transparency and accountability in the academic world has created a "culture of numbers" in which institutions and individuals believe that fair decisions can be reached by algorithmic evaluation of some statistical data; unable to measure quality (the ultimate goal), decision makers replace quality by numbers that they can measure. This trend calls for comment from those who professionally “deal with numbers”— mathematicians and statisticians.
 To summarize:
  1. A Greek academician, D. Nanopoulos, uses the h-index as a measure of his achievements. This can be witnessed in numerous web cites, in his talks, in his wikipedia entry, in his letter to the President of  Greece, etc.
  2. His having one of the greatest number of citations (and a big h-index) has been [presumably] translated and equated to his being one of the four greatest physicists of all times.
  3. The car company Lexus has used this, presumably in cooperation with Nanopoulos, to advertize their car.
Something is fundamentally wrong with all that. Perhaps it is because Nanopoulos is a professor in a horrible place, Texas A&M, where the heat, the conservatism, the guns around you, the pressure towards being the biggest (it's Texas) can drive you crazy. Nanopoulos is also being advertized as "a constant claimant of a Nobel prize"... As I said, funny things happen at the Academy of Athens....

22 June 2011

(Some of the) funny aspects of the Academy of Athens, I

A recent article by D. Gousetis criticized the Greek Academicians:
There is an institution whose members are supposed to be the leading intellectuals [of the country]. This is the Academy of Athens [i.e. the Greek Academy of Sciences]. According to its founding principles, the Academy of Athens aims, inter alia, at the scientific research and study of the national economy and the preparation of guidelines and suggestions for the benefit of state institutions and authorities. This is precisely what the country needs today. Instead, however, [the Academy of Athens] remains blissfully silent. The worst of all is that its members receive a salary as high as that of a member of the parliament, in [sharp] contrast to the academicians of rich countries, like USA or France, whose title is honorary, without salary. Their silence was not disturbed even when it was revealed that their former chairman [of the Academy] was a plagiarist: [the Academy] continues to sell the product of plagiarism [his book] in its bookstore.
Indeed, it is very true that the high-profile mathematician Nikolaos Artemiadis wrote a book on the history of mathematics in 2000 which was, in 2004, translated and published by the American Mathematical Society (AMS) under the title "History of Mathematics: From a Mathematician's Vantage Point". It was soon proven that the book is an ineptly plagiarized version of Morris Kline’s Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times. See the letter of Seth Braver, Univ. of Montana, to the AMS for explanation (page 718). On page 719, there is a reply by John Ewing, Executive Director of the AMS, stating that the AMS discontinues the publication of Artemiadis' book forever:
The American Mathematical Society views plagiarism with the utmost seriousness. When Braver brought this matter to our attention, we immediately ceased all sales of the book, reviewed the evidence he had presented, and gathered further evidence of our own. Based on that review, we decided to discontinue publication of the book permanently.
However, the Academy of Athens still continues to sell Artemiadis' book, not caring about the fact that it is plagiarized. As I wrote earlier, the German minister, Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, resigned when it was revealed that parts of his PhD thesis had been copied from the Internet (without citations). But in Greece, at least one academician (I am being told he's not the only one) remains in his highly paid position, without any repercussions for stealing from another book.

Meanwhile, Greeks keep protesting about the financial crisis and some of them expect solutions... From whom?

10 June 2011

Informative signposts

I found this picture on the Internet.The signposts for Alexandoupoli/Feres/Soufli do the opposite of providing too little information.
The first post warns the driver to take the exit in 1000 m.
There is a second post 100 m further down.
Just in case the driver is absent-minded, there is a reminder that the exit is in 600 m.
And then there is another one 400 m before the exit.
Probably there is a final one at the exit, but the picture gets out of focus and I can't tell.
(Who said that Greek signposts are non-informative?)

4 June 2011

What's so wrong with Kentucky?

  1. The Creation Museum: In 2007, a museum promoting pseudo-science was established. It cost them 27 million USD. It promotes fake concepts, such as that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, that humans co-existed with dinosaurs, that the christian bible contains scientific information, that creationism/intelligent design is a science, among others. The museum has 250 thousand visitors a year. The motto of the museum is: Welcome and Prepare to Believe. What else could be more at odds with the scientific method? There is no science which instructs you, dogmatically, to believe. Rather, science asks you to question everything. But this is hard, very hard to do. And this is why (one of the reasons that) there are still many people who "read" science in the bible or visit the creation museum: they have no ability to do science. It's much easier to pay a few dollars for a ticket to the museum, enjoy a diet coke with marshmallows, spend a couple of hours listening to the priests walking around in the museum (yes, the museum also employs professional christians) and then go home having convinced yourself that you are equipped with more scientific knowledge than those "losers" who go to university and study hard and work day and night trying to question, explore, and discover.
  2. The Ark Encounter: Since the bible mentions that once upon a time, there was a man called Noah who made a boat and saved many animals from a flood, this is taken a historical fact by the folk above who, having had great success with the Creation Museum, are now building an even more costly gadget, a recreation of Noah's Arc (150 million USD).
The organization behind both projects is called Answers in Genesis.They promote creationism and intelligent design and try hard to instill false information to people's minds. It is a complete fraud. Yet, since it makes many morons feel happy, it receives a lot of support and many people are prepared to give their money to them.

Long live the idiocy in this world.


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant