The revolution was not televised

So, DJC shared this Vox post on FB and asked for my thoughts.  Figured out I might as well share them here, too.  Anyway, Dylan Matthews makes a good case that the American Revolution ultimately did a lot more harm than good:

But I’m reasonably confident a world where the revolution never happened would be better than the one we live in now, for three main reasons: slavery would’ve been abolished earlier, American Indians would’ve faced rampant persecution but not the outright ethnic cleansing Andrew Jackson and other American leaders perpetrated, and America would have a parliamentary system of government that makes policymaking easier and lessens the risk of democratic collapse.

I think these are all, true, but Matthew’s big mistake is only looking at half the story.  He addresses the bad that would have been largely avoided had the Revolution not happened, but pretty much ignores the good, that might not have happened (or taken a lot longer to happen).  Here’s what I inartfully wrote o FB:

Matthews fails to consider the other counter-factuals of the positive benefit that would not have happened if not for the American revolution. Now, I’m no scholar of American intellectual history, but the new nation and the Constitution were incredibly important, I think, in spreading notions of the Lockean social contract and government by consent of the governed (rather than divine right of kings). It is under-appreciated what an amazingly radical approach the US government was for the times. And, I think, there’s a lot of good that came to our nation– and the world– from that, which might have been significantly attenuated had the revolution never happened.

Now, those counter-factuals are probably a lot harder, but certainly no less important.

Jim Carrey vs. science

I did not think it worth wasting my time addressing the fact what Jim Carrey thinks about vaccines– as befits the former s.o. of Jenny McCarthy, he’s pretty skeptical.  Phil Plait of Slate does think it’s worth his time to debunk Carrey, so feel free to check that out.

I got excited today, though, as I learned that one of the kids that Carrey high-lighted as damaged by vaccines actually has a very clear cause of his autism– Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.  That’s right, the rare genetic disease that my son has.  So, some good as come out of this– more attention for TSC.  Nice write-up by science writer Emily Willingham:

Actor Jim Carrey took to Twitter this week to draw attention to a long-time cause of his, campaigning for what he calls “greener” vaccines. He was trying to make some points about his opposition to the newly signed California law requiring vaccines for all children attending schools in the state, allowing only medical exemptions. In his attempt, Carrey unleashed a series of tweets with statements such as “A trillion dollars buys a lot of expert opinions. Will it buy you? TOXIN FREE VACCINES, A REASONABLE REQUEST!” along with images of distressed children.

As it turns out, one of those children was Alex Echols, whose family emphatically did not give Carrey permission to use the image of their son in his tweets about vaccines and weren’t too happy about his having done so.

Carrey appears to be among those who believe that vaccines cause autism…

But Carrey’s efforts did more than draw attention to his belief that vaccines contain “neurotoxins” and cause autism, one of Alex’s diagnoses. Because of Carrey’s use of Alex’s image and the resulting story blowing up around it, he’s also inadvertently drawn attention to a genetic condition that has been confirmed as associated with autism: tuberous sclerosis.

[Disclosure: Because of my involvement in a “mom group” many years ago, I was briefly familiar with Alex and his mother at the time he was diagnosed.]

The condition gets its name from the potato (tuber)-like growths that develop in the brain, as visible on MRI, that eventually harden, or sclerose. It traces to two gene variants that result in the development of these benign growths in many tissues. ‘Benign’ references only the fact that they aren’t cancer—their effects are not benign, particularly in the central nervous system. While the effects can be mild, often the condition is associated with epilepsy, developmental delay, and … autism.

In fact, about a third to half of children who have tuberous sclerosis could also be diagnosed with autism. Each condition is associated with seizures, and there are hints that disrupted connections among brain regions might be responsible for both the seizures and the social communication deficits of autism.

It’s ironic that Jim Carrey, in his effort to argue a debunked link between vaccines and autism, accidentally drew attention to one of the few factors that have been strongly linked to autism. Some celebrities, however, such as Julianne Moore, were way ahead of the curve and have been working a little more deliberately to draw attention to tuberous sclerosis.

This is about as much media coverage as I’ve ever seen for TSC— so, thanks Jim Carrey!

Solve this!

Love this “problem solving test” from Dave Leonhardt in the Upshot.  Try it out (seriously!) then come back.

What a great way to show confirmation bias.  I’m happy to report that I was in the 23% that did not write a rule until I had a no (in fact, I wasn’t sure, until I had three no’s–wanted to make sure the rule did not involve positive numbers only, etc.).  Of course, this is a great example of why social science training is so handy.  I had a hypothesis and rather than trying to confirm it, I tried combinations to dis-confirm it.  Anyway, pretty cool.

Photo of the day

Amazing gallery of images of Audubon photo awards at In Focus (bird lovers, you really need to check out the whole gallery):

Professional Honorable Mention—Sandhill Crane. Photo: Jason Savage / Audubon Photography Awards

Jason Savage / Audubon Photography Awards

Pet dinosaurs

So, a former student’s FB post about attending the Creation Museum inspired me to check out their website (of course, I’ve long-known of their existence, just never really investigated).  I was most fascinated to learn how they have simply decided to adopt dinosaurs and the fossil record and explain that they are just looking at it through a bible-based perspective rather than a science-based perspective.  They are proud of their fossils and have all sorts of pseudo-scientific explanations for how they are right and the scientists are wrong about evolution, natural selection, etc.  I ended up at the Answers in Genesis site where they proudly proclaim, “We’ve Invaded Their “Temple”! Humanists Are on Notice: We’re Taking Dinosaurs Back!”  Watch out you secular humanists!!

And, what is some of the air-tight logic upon which they are reclaiming dinosaurs?

And no, it’s not ridiculous to believe dinosaurs and people lived at the same time (as the Bible makes very clear)—it’s ridiculous and illogical not to! Consider the two signs pictured from one of Australia’s wildlife sanctuaries.

Think about it: according to evolutionary time, crocodiles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs1—and yet, humans live with crocodiles today. So why is it ridiculous to think humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time?

Sign from one of Australia’s wildlife sanctuaries

But it’s not just crocodiles—there are many other examples. On AiG’s website, there’s an article that quotes a leading evolutionist who said that finding a certain tree in Australia was like finding a “live dinosaur.” The article explained

This is because the tree, nicknamed the Wollemi pine, is known from fossils classed as so-called Jurassic age around 150 million years ago, but not from fossils in rocks of later periods.

Humans and the Wollemi pine tree live today, and yet from an evolutionary perspective, the Wollemi pine dates back to the “time of the dinosaurs.” That’s why the evolutionist called it the “dinosaur tree.”

While we don’t find fossils of the Wollemi pine tree and humans together, we do know they live together—because both are alive today.

WTF?  I can’t even get around the logic of how that all means humans, dinosaurs, and crocodiles are all only 6000 years old. But don’t worry, it’s science:

Nothing in observational science contradicts the obvious conclusion based on the Bible’s history:

  • Dinosaurs were created alongside man around 6,000 years ago.
  • Representative kinds of them were on Noah’s Ark.
  • Most dinosaur fossils are from the Flood (about 4,500 years ago).
  • Dinosaurs lived beside man after the Flood, but like lots of other animals and plants, have become extinct since that time.

Ouch, the stupid!

And, sure, it’s fun and easy to pick on the creation museum, but this is serious stuff.  Last year’s Gallup poll:

Trend: Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?

Does the same-sex marriage decision help Republicans?

Yes, says Nate C0hn, but not at all in the ways you might expect (short-term mobilization of Evangelical voters).  He posted this really nice analysis long before the SC decision, but anticipating this ruling.

Many Republicans believe that their party needs to improve its image among the new generation of young and nonwhite voters who have helped President Obama win two terms. Yet there is a reason most Republican politicians have not tailored their positions on major issues toward younger voters: Doing so would risk angering the party’s base, which is predominantly old, white and culturally conservative.

Enter the Supreme Court.

With the legality of same-sex marriage being argued on Tuesday, the court could allow Republicans to abandon an unpopular position without abandoning their principles or risking a primary challenge. History would effectively be bailing out the party.

So, why is this such a bailout?  The demographics of the GOP– which, we all know are white, but which I did not realize were so dominated by Christian conservatives (and who are a shrinking portion of the US):

For all of the focus on the “white working class” or the “gender gap” or the urban-rural divide, the real fissure among white voters is along religious lines. The divide between white evangelical Christians and nonreligious white voters is about as large as the gap between white and nonwhite voters, and it dwarfs the education, income, gender or regional gaps.

The Republican advantage among white voters is a product of this division. There are more white evangelical voters than white non-Christian voters, and so the white vote tilts Republican. [all emphases mine] The remaining white non-evangelical Christian voters, like mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics, have split roughly evenly between the two parties. To the extent that the Republicans have a slight edge among them, it is because of the South.

This was a winning formula for Republicans. There were enough evangelical voters to overwhelm the Democratic alliance between the secular left and nonwhite voters.

That formula is in trouble. The growing nonwhite share of the electorate has played a well-documented role in eroding the viability of the traditionalG.O.P. path to the presidency, but the growing number of non-Christian white voters — the religiously unaffiliated, atheists, agnostics, Jews and others — will pose a problem as well.

Among voters under age 45, there were fewer evangelical voters than non-Christian whites, according to a compilation of pre-election surveys of nearly 14,000 respondents. Among 18-to-29-year-olds, white non-Christians outnumbered white evangelicals by a five-point margin. In comparison, evangelicals outnumbered non-Christians by a three-to-one margin among non-Hispanic whites over age 65.

This shift in the religious composition of white voters is a big part of why Mr. Obama fared so much better among 18-to-29-year-old whites than among white voters over age 30…

High and growing turnout among white evangelical voters, along with growing Republican margins among white evangelicals, helped Republicans offset this trend…

But as younger, less Christian voters age and their turnout rises, it becomes harder to imagine the Republicans continuing to compensate with higher turnout and support among white evangelicals..

If Republicans are running out of room to expand their margins among evangelical voters, then additional gains among white voters will have to come from nonevangelicals.

Short version: the Republicans’ reliance on white evangelicals is a demographic time-bomb.  Insofar as this decision helps them move beyond an over-reliance on white evangelicals, it will help them broaden their party.

So, as a Democrat, should I be upset?  Absolutely not.  I want their to be a sane and reasonable opposition party to the one I support and I think evidence suggests that as Republicans move past over-reliance on (older) white, evangelicals, they will likely grow more sane and reasonable.  I would love to have an opposition party that looks like David Frum and Reihan Salam– I disagree with those guys, but they make strong, genuinely reasonable arguments.  I’d like to think that, just maybe, this is a step towards getting there.  We can hope, as in this case what would be good for the Republican party would be good for the country.

Goal of the day

Awesome.  Chile vs. Peru.


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