I think his name was Chips Ahoy

Links for breakfast:

Jesus Made Me Puke: Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone goes undercover at a Texas megachurch’s “Encounter Weekend.” The text speaks for itself:

“Let me ask you a question,” he said. “Why do alcoholics give birth to alcoholics? Why do the fatherless give birth to the fatherless?” He paused. “There are some people out there who will tell you it’s genetics. It’s in our genes, they say. Well, I tell you, it’s not genetics. It’s a generational curse!”

Fortenberry then started in on a rant against science and against scientific explanations for cycles of sin. “Take homosexuals,” he said. “Every single homosexual is a sexual-abuse victim. They are not born. They are created — by pedophiles.”

The crowd swallowed that one whole. One thing about this world: Once a preacher says it, it’s true. No one is going to look up anything the preacher says, cross-check his facts, raise an eyebrow at something that might sound a little off. Some weeks later, I would be at a Sunday service in which Pastor John Hagee himself would assert that the Bible predicts that Jesus Christ is going to return to Earth bearing a “rod of iron” to discipline the ACLU. It goes without saying that the ACLU was not mentioned in the passage in Ezekiel he was citing — but the audience ate it up anyway. When they’re away from the cameras, the preachers feel even less obligated to shackle themselves to facts of any kind. That’s because they know that their audience doesn’t give a shit. So long as you’re telling them what they want to hear, there’s no danger; your crowd will angrily dismiss any alternative explanations anyway as demonic subversion.

A team of twenty of the world’s leading scientists wouldn’t be able to convince so much as one person in this crowd that homosexuals are not created by pedophiles.

Hillary Clinton Rejects Science, Reasoning:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you name one economist, a credible economist who supports the [gas tax] suspension?

CLINTON: Well, you know, George, I think we’ve been for the last seven years seeing a tremendous amount of government power and elite opinion basically behind policies that haven’t worked well for the middle class and hard-working Americans. From the moment I started this campaign, I’ve said that I am absolutely determined that we’re going to reverse the trends that have been going on in our government and in our political system, because what I have seen is that the rich have gotten richer. A vast majority — I think something like 90 percent — of the wealth gains over the last seven years have gone to the top 10 percent of wage earners in America.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But can you name an economist who thinks this makes sense?

CLINTON: Well, I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to put my lot in with economists.

Couple this with her support for the autism/vaccination link and we finally have the pure Anti-Science candidate that this country has been aching for since its inception.

(I kid, of course – none of them are that great)

Bridging the gap between mathematics and civil liberties, Radley Balko talks about the problem of DNA databases. Knowing that a test has a 99.9996% (or whatever) accuracy rate does not tell you all you need to know – you also need to know the actual incidence of what’s being tested for within the population. Few people know that. Hell, I still need to remind myself from time to time. Bayes’ Theorem in action.

Let’s say the U.S. adopts a Great Britain policy on collecting DNA–basically a move toward, at some point in the future, having DNA on file for everyone in the country. Well now the 1 in 1.1 million odds against the suspect in the L.A. Times case are being run against a database of 380 million people. The numbers say that you’re going to pull up about 345 matches in the U.S. alone. In the California case, the database is obviously much smaller than the entire U.S. population, and only one of those 345 people showed up from the 330,000-person FBI DNA database–the (admittedly unsympathetic) subject of the article. But any of the other 344 potential matches in the U.S. (or the 2,200 matches worldwide) could have committed the crime. They just weren’t in the database.

To put it another way: if I run an anabolic steroids test with 99% accuracy in a nursing home with 400 residents, I’m going to get at least 4 positive results. Does this mean that 4 octogenarians shoot themselves in the butt with parabolan every morning? Probably not.

Finally, for all my cheerleading about globalization, it helps to have a saner mind like IOZ put me right once in a while:

So, you know, on one hand “there were once nation-states,” but now there are “dynamos like India and China,” which are, what, anarchoprimitive agricollectives? The idea that some sort of stateless transnational borderless economic singularity is swiftly ripping away borders like stagehands rip up gaff tape on load-out is plain kooky. I am of course for the free movement of labor and capital. Call me the next time you hit Charles de Gaulle, or Beijing Capital International Airport for that fucking matter, without a passport. I’m just saying.


6 Responses

  1. In one sense, it’s better to have a massive DNA database, since it makes the false matches obvious. Test the suspect’s DNA and get 345 hits, and everybody knows that’s leaving a lot of reasonable doubt open. Test it and get 1 hit, and he’s convicted.

  2. “Everybody” knows? You’ve seen some of the arguments judges buy, right?

  3. A DNA database is much easier to quantify. How do we Bayesify the question of how likely it was that Witness A saw the suspect running from the scene, Witness B saw him discard a handgun two blocks away, and Witness C heard him make a death threat the day before. People can already get convicted on that basis, even though the possibility of false positives and false negatives is there.

  4. I think people already know instinctively about the nature of false positives in eyeball IDs. DNA science is treated as more exact (which it is, provided you understand the probabilities involved).

    And Bayesian priors are not the only grounds on which I object to a national DNA database, but you probably could have guessed that.

  5. I think people already know instinctively about the nature of false positives in eyeball IDs.

    I don’t think they do. Eyewitness testimony in trials is hugely effective, even though it’s the most unreliable sort of evidence short of astrology.

  6. Should I say “more people know about how unreliable eyewitness testimony is than how hard it is to quantify the meaning of a DNA match?”

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