Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I've been trying to eat more vegetables lately; I've been inspired by the excellent blog Mark's Daily Apple.

Above is a colorful (and therefore full of antioxidants) salad that I made tonight. It has eight vegetables in it: chard, spinach, cabbage, beets (grated), carrots (grated), red pepper (grated), broccoli, and some fresh tomatoes from my garden. For my own bowl, I poured on a little virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and pesto seasoning. A bit crunchy, but delicious and extremely healthy.

For lunch today, I had a can of wild Alaskan salmon (which you can get relatively cheap on Amazon), poured into a bowl with all of the oil. In it, I mixed: a dollop of mayonnaise, a little bit of sugar, salt, pepper, the same pesto seasoning, thyme, and a big dash of turmeric. I have this for lunch quite often; occasionally, I'll add some curry powder or minced garlic. Wild salmon is a great way to get Omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to an staggering variety of health benefits.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

More of Me Playing the Guitar

Here's another clip from that 1997 concert by the "Atlanta Guitar Trio." We're playing "El Puerto," from the Iberia Suite by Isaac Albeniz, as arranged for three guitars by me. The video includes a long bit of tuning up; nothing much happens until about a minute into the video.

Citation Plagiarism

Well, I was about to preface this with a disclaimer that it isn't current news, but why should I do that anyway? The whole problem with the media (and this is only exacerbated on most blogs) is that it's too focused on what's new, and ignoring what was said last month or last year. Of course, last month's or last year's "news" often does appear now to be ephemeral or ultimately non-important. But if that's the case, one shouldn't have been wasting time with those stories then either.

But I digress. What I really wanted to post about was this story:
Tomorrow's IT advances -- which usually start out in today's academic journals -- may be the product of cheating, say UCLA researchers who claim that scientists routinely lie about the amount of research they perform before publishing their innovations.
* * *

"We discovered that the majority of scientific citations are copied from the lists of references used in other papers," Simkin and Roychowdhury write in a paper whose title admonishes, "Read Before You Cite!"

An ingenious study of the statistics of scientific misprints led the two researchers to conclude that major innovations may, in part, be the products of lazy fudge factoring.

* * *

"The probability of repeating someone else's misprint accidentally is 1 in 10,000," Roychowdhury and Simkin claim. "There should be almost no repeat misprints by coincidence."

Yet, repeat misprints appear in nearly 80 percent of the papers the two authors studied, leading them to conclude that "only about 20 percent of citers read the original. Repeat misprints are due to copying some one else's reference, without reading the paper in question."
So far, so good. Citing without reading the work in question = bad scholarship.

I object to this, however, at least as described:
Out of 24,000 papers published between 1975 and 1994 in the prestigious journal "Physical Review D," forty-four papers achieved "renowned" status with 500 or more citations.

Asking the question, "What is the mathematical probability that 44 of 24,000 papers would be cited 500 or more times in 19 years?" Roychowdhury and Simkin found the answer to be 1 in 10^500, or effectively, zero.

In other words, it is a mathematical impossibility that 44 of 24,000 papers would achieve "greatness" by these measures, unless another mechanism -- copying, for instance -- were at work.

If so, the so-called "Matthew Effect" would take over after a few copied citations, the authors say.

"This way, a paper that already was cited is likely to be cited again, and after it is cited again, it is even more likely to be cited in the future," claims Roychowdhury, a specialist in the research of high-performance and parallel computing systems. "In other words, 'unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance,'" he quoted from the Gospel of Matthew.
It's a "mathematical impossibility" only if one were expecting citation patterns to be completely random, but why would one expect that in the first place? A better expectation is that citation patterns ought to follow more of a power-law distribution -- lots of papers are crap and should never get cited, and a few papers revolutionize a field or at least make a very substantial contribution, and hence should get cited a lot. There may still be quite a substantial "Matthew effect," of course, but the mere fact that citation patterns fail to match a normal distribution doesn't prove that "copying" is a big problem.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Take a look at the following statements:

1. One progressive educator:
A review of theories, research, and models of the learning styles of Black children reveals that Black children generally learn in ways characterized by factors of social/affective emphases, harmony, holistic perspectives, expressive creativity, and nonverbal communication.

2. Another progressive educator:
There are a variety of descriptions of typical learning patterns of African Americans (Hale- Benson, 1986; Shade, 1989; Hilliard, 1989) which report the students' desire for oral experiences, physical activity, and strong personal relationships (Shade, Hilliard). These patterns would call for classroom work that includes collaboration, discussion, and active projects. The same authors report that mainstream white male Americans value independence, analytic thinking, objectivity, and accuracy. These values translate into learning experiences that focus on information, competition, tests, grades, and critical thinking.

3. Another progressive educator:
Hale Benson (1986) also summarized Akbar’s characteristics of the African American child’s cognitive style and Hilliard’s African American cultural style by indicating that African Americans

• tend to respond to things in terms of the whole picture instead of its parts while the Euro-American style tends to believe that anything can be divided and subdivided into pieces and that these pieces add up to a whole;

• tend to prefer inferential reasoning to deductive or inductive reasoning;

• tend to approximate space, numbers, and time rather that stick to accuracy;

• tend to prefer to focus on people and their activities rather than things;

• tend to have a keen sense of justice and are quick to analyze and perceive injustice;

• tend to lean toward altruism, a concern for one’s fellow man;

• tend to prefer novelty, freedom, and personal distinctiveness;

• tend not to be “word” dependent but very proficient in nonverbal communication (p. 42).
4. Yet another "progressive" educator:
Sharroky Hollie sees the achievement gap yet another way. He is a professor of teacher education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who focuses on strategies that help Latino and African American students learn. Hollie says the achievement gap reflects a biased education system that doesn't accept behaviors and learning styles common in African American and Latino communities.

For example, he said, an African American student who is talkative and frequently gets out of his seat will be seen as disruptive and defiant in most schools. Instead, Hollie said, teachers should develop teaching strategies that work with the student's social and kinesthetic nature, a trait that could be attributed to his cultural background.
This is all very "progressive," remember, so it would clearly be wrong to suspect that these kind-hearted educators are trafficking in racial stereotypes at all when they say that whites are good at analytical thinking, deductive reasoning, and accuracy, while blacks are better at "nonverbal communication" (whatever that means -- semaphore or Morse code, perhaps?), "physical activity," and "oral experiences" rather than reading.

Still, I can't help being reminded of the sorts of things that racist whites used to say. For example, here's a statement from a 19th-century white man named John Alvord, who was in charge of education for the Freedman's Bureau:
It is probable that the tastes and temperament of the [black] race, which are peculiar, certainly, will lead in special directions. They may not at first excel in the inventive power, or abstract science, perhaps not in mathematics, though we have seen very commendable ciphering in the colored schools. But they certainly are emotional, imitative, and affectionate; are graphic and figurative in language; have conceptions of beauty and song, and already become teachers, skilled mechanics and even artists.

[This quote comes from page 160 of Heather Andrea Williams' wonderful book Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom," published by University of North Carolina Press in 2005.]
The similarity is no doubt just a coincidence.

Laycock vs. Hamilton

This is probably the most scathing book review I've ever seen:

Douglas Laycock*

Reviewing God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law. By Marci A. Hamilton.

* * *

The legal claim in God vs. the Gavel is that only legislatures may decide,
and that judges may not. The legislature must enact specific rules for religious exemptions; it may not enact religious exemptions under a generally applicable standard to be interpreted by judges. Professor Marci Hamilton briefly argues for this claim in Chapter Ten.

The rest of the book is a poorly executed rant -- disorganized, selfcontradictory, and riddled with errors. Chapters One through Nine make a much broader legal claim that is quietly abandoned in Chapter Ten. Chapter Ten suggests that her position may not be as extreme as it often sounds, but this appearance of moderation is too little, too late, to save a dreadful book. Elsewhere I have praised Hamilton’s judgment, but this time there is nothing good to say.
After dissecting Hamilton's argument, and discussing numerous basic factual errors, Laycock concludes with this:
Legal scholars may be advocates, and they may reach out to nonscholarly audiences, but every scholar has a minimum obligation of factual accuracy and intellectual honesty. God vs. the Gavel does not come close to meeting either standard. Nor does it offer a sustained argument for its legal claim about the institutional competence of courts and legislatures. Its many footnotes offer the patina of scholarship, but there is no substance of scholarship. This book is unworthy of the Cambridge University Press and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
Whew. Hamilton briefly responds here, and then Laycock has a rejoinder here. I think Laycock pretty clearly gets the best of the exchange.

I also found interesting what Laycock says about why courts are better than legislatures in their ability to investigate facts (contrary to what Hamilton and many other people assume):
Each side is guaranteed a fair and equal opportunity to present its evidence and arguments. Litigants may invoke the judicial process as of right; unlike legislators, judges cannot simply ignore questions presented to them. Because each side has an advocate to marshal its case, it is far more likely that a judge will hear the most important evidence than that a Congressional committee will. Witnesses can be effectively cross-examined, which is rare in legislative hearings. Judges are overworked just as legislators are, but in an important case presenting a serious constitutional question, judges can usually commit substantial blocks of time. Judges do not wander on and off the bench while hearings continue in their absence. All judicial proceedings are on the record, and ex parte contacts are forbidden. When a judge makes up her mind because a campaign contributor talks to her before the hearing begins, it is corruption; when a legislator does the same thing, it is business as usual.

(Hat tip: First Things.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No More Lemmas

I've long suspected as much:
Non-operational models of economic phenomena are worse than wrong in a scientific sense because they draw resources away from the creation and examination of operational propositions and do not provide any information or hypotheses about observable reality.
From The Market for Lemmas, by Philip R.P. Coelho and James E. McClure. (Hat tip: Marginal Revolution).

Laughter is Contagious

To wit:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Me, Playing the Guitar Again

This is from a 1997 concert in Macon, Georgia. At the time, I was in the "Atlanta Guitar Trio," which is the name that two friends and I chose to call ourselves. We managed to play one, and only one, concert, and then I went off to law school. The
other members were Derek Keller and John Huston.

We didn't have enough actual guitar trio music to fill an entire program, so we each played a few solos. Here I am, playing the first of William Walton's Five Bagatelles.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Me, Playing the Guitar

Here's an old video of me playing the guitar in a recital at the 1994 Christopher Parkening masterclass, at Montana State University.

I'm playing my 1967 Ramirez guitar; the maker in Ramirez's shop was Mariano Tezanos, or "MT." It's a very good guitar; Chris himself has played a 67 MT.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Jack Balkin and various NRO folks have been mixing it up about a perennial topic of dispute: originalism. In his latest post, Prof. Balkin says:
For me the Constitution involves present day commands that bind current generations just as much as past ones. Therefore if one thinks that great achievements like the Civil Rights Act are an important part of our political and constitutional traditions, one can't adopt a theory of interpretation that renders most of these laws unconstitutional, even if we keep judges from remedying the unconstitutionality.

Matt strongly objects to this sort of reasoning from our existing legal traditions; he regards it as the essence of results-oriented jurisprudence. I disagree. I think that any serious theory of interpretation-- and by serious I mean one that actual judges and actual political officials living in the present can use-- has to recognize key achievements of American law as a starting point for understanding how we interpret our Constitution.
This is the nub of the disagreement, I think. For some people, the phrase "theory of interpretation" means, "how do we figure out what a document means." For Balkin, when referring to the Constitution, the phrase "theory of interpretation" means, "how do we figure out what a document means, subject to the constraint that it simply must mean X, Y, and Z, where X, Y, and Z are things that I'd like it to mean."

I don't think that in any other context of law -- or life -- the latter would be recognized as a "theory of interpretation" at all. No one would say, "Here's a contract. What does it mean? Well, my 'theory of interpretation' is that the contract means what it says. But by the way, no matter what the contract says, it absolutely must be interpreted to mean that the buyer has the option to pay the seller on a 12-month payment plan, because I prefer 12-month payment plans over an upfront payment." No one would say, "Here's a recipe for an entree. What does it say? Well, my theory of interpretation is that no matter what it says, it must be 'interpreted' to include garlic salt, because I like garlic salt."

That's not a "theory of interpretation.". It's a theory for overriding the document in question and getting what you want instead. Maybe the thing you want instead (garlic salt, etc.) is a wonderful thing. Maybe you shouldn't pay attention to the document if it stands in the way of that wonderful thing. But you're not really interpreting the document if you have a predetermined conclusion in mind, that's going to apply no matter what the document actually says.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hilzoy v. Rod Dreher

Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings says:
There is, by now, a whole genre of mea culpas written by people who support Iraq. Some are more thoughtful than others. But some are, to me, frankly puzzling. Because what the writer uses to explain his mistake is not some simple factual error, but a whole cast of mind that I would have thought would be even more embarrassing than getting even a large policy question badly wrong.
* * *
As a sort of warm-up exercise, consider Rod Dreher's account of the changes the war in Iraq caused in his political views: [Long quotes from Rod that you'll have to click through to read.]

* * *

Isn't it astonishing that any adult would confess to this -- to having formed his opinions on the basis of speeches rather than policies, and to have "scorned", "blithely", people he ought to have tried to learn something from, on the basis of -- what, exactly? Apparently, nothing more than the fact that they struck him as whiny defeatists. Isn't it even more astonishing that someone who actually writes about politics (along with culture) for a living would admit to this? To me, it's like hearing a doctor say that it was only his own illness that finally made him pay attention to those germ thingies he had earlier dismissed as too small to worry about, and realize that people who whined about annoying things like hospital hygeine and safe drinking water weren't just fussy anal-retentives.
Disclaimer: Rod Dreher is a good personal friend of mine. So feel free to take what I say with a grain of salt.

My response: I think Rod's mea culpa is surprising not because he says that his own decisionmaking process in the past was irrational, but because most political commentators lack his self-awareness.

Studies have shown that the most well-educated people are, paradoxically, most susceptible to viewing the world through the lens of partisanship. For example:

"A clear bottom line: political knowledge does not correct for partisan bias in perception of 'objective' conditions, nor does it mitigate the bias. Instead, and unfortunately, it enhances the bias; party identication colors the perceptions of the most politically informed citizens far more than the relatively less informed citizens." Danielle Shani. 2006. "Knowing Your Colors: Can Knowledge Correct for Partisan Bias in Political Perceptions?" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.

"In this paper we report the results of two experiments showing that citizens are prone to overly accommodate supportive evidence while dismissing out of hand evidence that challenges their prior attitudes. On reading a balanced set of pro and con arguments about affirmative action or gun control, we find that rather than moderating or simply maintaining their original attitudes, citizens – especially those who feel the strongest about the issue and are the most sophisticated – strengthen their attitudes in ways not warranted by the evidence." Charles S. Taber and Milton Lodge. Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs." [This was published at: American Journal of Political Science 50(3): 755-69.]

In other words, it's the most clever people who are best at dressing up their emotional and partisan beliefs in high-minded reasoning, the best at cherry-picking the evidence to support their cause, the best at poking holes in any contrary evidence. That's what makes Rod's essay (linked above) interesting: Unlike most people, he was able to figure out how his political reasoning had been affected by those factors.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


One of my favorite bands -- Eisley -- has a new album coming out soon. You can hear a few tracks here.

Here's a video of a new song, "Invasion."

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Working Class Rich

So a lot of bloggers are clucking over this NY Times story about "working class millionaires."
“I know people looking in from the outside will ask why someone like me keeps working so hard,” Mr. Steger says. “But a few million doesn’t go as far as it used to. Maybe in the ’70s, a few million bucks meant ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ or Richie Rich living in a big house with a butler. But not anymore.”

Silicon Valley is thick with those who might be called working-class millionaires — nose-to-the-grindstone people like Mr. Steger who, much to their surprise, are still working as hard as ever even as they find themselves among the fortunate few. Their lives are rich with opportunity; they generally enjoy their jobs. They are amply cushioned against the anxieties and jolts that worry most people living paycheck to paycheck.

But many such accomplished and ambitious members of the digital elite still do not think of themselves as particularly fortunate, in part because they are surrounded by people with more wealth — often a lot more.
I'd cluck too, but then I remember that a few billion people in the world would be equally justified in clucking about all middle-class Americans.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Health Care Policy

Mark Sisson has a long and impassioned post on the health care system in America, including how people eat and behave. He makes a lot of good points.