Thursday, June 26, 2008

Royalty and Pronouns

SCOTUS released the groundbreaking 2nd Amendment decision today in DC v. Heller and, as I parse through early analysis of the linguistics and historical semantics of the majority decision, the use of a sub-form of the so-called "royal we" in the discussion of court decisions strikes me:

In United States v. Miller, 307 U. S. 174, 179 (1939), we explained that...

Now this is interesting in that it paints a picture of unity in the way a court operates. A reasonable alternative might have been:

...the majority decision concluded that...
Instead, Scalia is both time traveling and invoking a certain personification of SCOTUS wherein its often bicameral nature is subordinated to the body as a whole. Unity out of many, indeed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pathological Science and Odd Birds

Over at Recursivity there was a discussion of a psychic advisor to a school teaching assistant who told her that one of her charges was being abused. The school then undertook an investigation about alleged abuse claims based on the psychic’s suggestion. The child has autistic spectrum disorder and so often exhibits behavior unlike non-autistic children, as well, complicating the whole issue. Communication is limited, also.

So how should we treat fringe science and pseudoscience as a social phenomena? For instance, there is a fairly long history of investigations of supposed psychic phenomena dating back to the late 1800s, but with institutional investigation in the US beginning in the 1920s or so. Since that time, there have been many university laboratories created to try to study anomalous experimental findings. Projects at SRI in the 60s expanded the use of our tax dollars on this topic in pursuit of Cold War weapons.

As per the basic revulsion I felt at the treatment of the poor mother in the Canadian case, there certainly is not any evidence that suggests social policy should be influenced by psychic “discoveries” but there are enough findings that further research may be warranted (though funding that research should be a private—not public—matter). I say this with some trepidation, but I would say the same thing about cold fusion or other anomalous hints at findings.

But then what makes these two cases different from so-called “intelligent design” (ID)? For cold fusion, there is a proposed physical mechanism, for one, so that theory and experiment can progress together. For psi, there are some experimental results that look sufficiently interesting that additional experiments could and have been done. A mechanism is still wanting, however, though some ideas have been proposed based on virtual particle interactions that date to the beginning of the quantum science era.

Both of these are examples of what Irving Langmuir called “pathological science” and both were subject to enormous scrutiny and brought with them substantiated examples of dishonesty on the part of some (but not all) of the participants.

But ID is an odd pathological bird. It doesn’t really propose a physical mechanism but instead claims that there is insufficient evidence for a physical mechanism of evolution (though apparently only at the level of speciation). It also lacks experimental evidence (even in a historical sense) but uses a principle of insufficient information as the core of its methodology. It does share with cold fusion and psi powers the unenviable status of being practiced by at least some dishonest charlatans. In the case of ID, they have been actively trying to insert creationism into school curricula. Interestingly, there has never been a concerted effort by psi or cold fusion advocates to try to insert their ideas into the schools.

The odyssey from pathological to mainstream is not unknown (plate tectonics, for instance) but is only survived by relatively few. My guess is that ID will never make it through that filter and be welcomed to the lands of rationality.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Olympia and Father's Day

It took enormous feats of dadness to get up on Father's Day and make it to the member's early admission to the Frida Kahlo exhibit at SFMOMA today. But we made it and watched the narrative unwind of Latin American socialism, personal tragedy, illness, dysfunctional relationships and catharsis through painting.

Yet slightly more intriguing to me was the use of language and titles in many of the more contemporary works at SFMOMA. Check out Robert Bechtle's irreverent Watsonville Olympia from 1977:

And anyone with a painting or art history degree (or, in my case, a wife with one) will recognize the inside joke (at Manet's expense). Here's Manet's Olympia:

What mountains an artist must climb. Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Internets and Guantanamo

It’s no surprise I guess that the US Supreme Court would inevitably embrace the internet as a research tool. In the most recent decision on Guantanamo Bay detentions:

See Halliday & White, The Suspension Clause: English Text, Imperial Contexts, and American Implications, 94 Va. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2008) (hereinafter Halliday & White) (manuscript, at 11, online at /papers.cfm?abstract_id=1008252 (all Internet materials as visited June 9, 2008, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file) (noting that “conceptually the writ arose from a theory of power rather than a theory of liberty”)).


See History of Guantanamo Bay online at gtmohistgeneral.

Times change, even at SCOTUS.