Redacted Tonight: CIA Staged Fake Academic Conferences to Encourage Iranian Scientist to Defect

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/10/2017 - 4:47am in

This story comes from the real, whacky world of spies. In this clip from RT America’s Redacted Tonight, Naomi Karavani talks about the bizarre tactics the CIA used to infiltrate academia, and particularly the fake academic conferences the agency set up to encourage Iranian nuclear scientists to defect. She starts with a statement Harvard University gave after it was revealed that the uni was admitting CIA agents. They defended their admission of the spooks, stating that they were proud to offer an education to members of the security services, just as they were proud to offer it to left-wing and peace activists.

The CIA’s attempt to get nuclear scientists from the Islamic Republic was hampered by the fact that none of the agents charged with conducting the project actually knew anything about science. So in the absence of any knowledge about particle physics and the practical engineering required to build reactors or bombs, they fell back on using ‘chat-up lines’. Like ‘Didn’t I see you in Istanbul’, and ‘Don’t you hate crowds’. They also resorted to using personal information that they gained about their targets. One scientist they attempted to recruit said that one of them blithely told him that he understood that he’d had testicular cancer and had ‘lost a nut’. The agents also tried to get their targets alone through poisoning their guards’ meals, so that they got diarrhoea and vomiting.

Karavani also describes how Israel is accused of trying to sabotage the Iranian nuclear programme through the assassination of at least five of its scientists. Israel has denied this, but nevertheless, in 2015 the American government tried to stop Israel from killing anymore.

Karavani concludes by stating that these tactics are hostile and could lead to a war between America and Iran, while in fact, peaceful negotiations have led to Iran abandoning research costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

There’s a very serious point here amidst the comedy. It’s not just about the assassination that have probably been staged by Israel against the Iranian nuclear programme. This presumably also includes the Stuxnet computer virus, which shut down one of the Iranian nuclear reactors and allegedly killed several scientists and engineers. Nor the hypocrisy of this attitude, when Israel, quite against international law, has nuclear weapons. It’s the whole issue of the CIA and other parts of the security state, including the military, on campus.

Way back in the 1980s/ 1990s Lobster carried an article about British universities that were involved in training military personnel and spies. I think some of those, who were being provided with an education at public expense also included the type of characters, who gave covert help to various dictators around the world.

This issue has become very relevant yet again, as American peace protesters, such as Code Pink, have launched a movement to encourage universities to BDS – Boycott, Divest and Sanction – the American arms industry.

Three Soviet Anti-War Posters

I found these three posters in the art book, The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1987 and was struck by their continued relevance to events today. The book is a collection of Soviet political posters from the Bolshevik coup of 1917 to the time the book was published in the mid-1980s, taken from the Lenin library. In many ways it’s an art-historical chronicle of the great events that shaped the Soviet Union, from the Revolution, through the Civil War, collectivisation and industrialisation, the Nazi invasion, nuclear tensions of the Cold War, Gagarin’s epoch-making spaceflight and then on to the years of stagnation under Brezhnev.

Two of the posters below were part of a number produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, which the Russians called the ‘Great Patriotic War’. Their message against war is simple and eternal, using the images of a woman and child in one, and a small child in the other, to get the message across.

The Russian behind the little girl reads simply ‘Don’t Need War’.

The slogan in this poster says ‘Not For Wars’.

This last poster is less anti-war, than anti-nuclear testing. Nevertheless, it was painted in 1958 during the Cold War, when the West and the Communist bloc faced each other amid an intense atmosphere of distrust and hostility, and it seemed that nuclear Armageddon could come at any moment. This is the background to the formation of groups in the West like CND. The Russian is a simple cry of ‘No!’

I realise that there’s an element of hypocrisy in these posters, as the Soviet Union was a military superpower, which used its armed forces to dominate its satellites in eastern Europe, and was intent on developing its own nuclear arsenal.

But I wanted to put these images up because of their powerful message now, when our political leaders seem to be intent on driving us towards another useless, dangerous Cold War with Russia, and Trump and Kim Jong-Un, the madman in charge of North Korea, have been threatening each other with their nuclear and conventional weapons over in the Pacific.

In the case of Kim Jong-In, he’s simply the latest scion of a family of brutal ‘Stalinist’ dictators, who hang on to power through terror and mass arrest. In the case of Trump and the western politicians, the new Cold War is another attempt to isolate and weaken Russia on the geopolitical stage, provide a reason for giving more massive government contracts to the arms manufacturers, and in the case of Killary and the corporatist Democrats, divert attention away from their own very corrupt dealings with Putin’s Russia abroad, and Wall Street and big business at home.

America’s wars in the Middle East are killing hundreds of thousands, and have displaced many millions more. They have reduced secular Arab nations to ruins, and created legions of Islamist militants and sectarian death squads, who kill, maim, butcher and enslave in their turn. And now Trump seems intent on forcing some kind of confrontation with Iran.

And so we still need to hear these posters’ vital message, whatever we think of Russia’s Communist past.

During the Cold War of the 1980s, Sting sang ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’ The answer from these posters is clearly ‘Yes’. Just as the Arabs and Iranians do.

No more imperialism.

No more war.

From C. 1989: Pravda International on Launch of Greenpeace Rock Album in Soviet Union

Pravda International, with pic of Yeltsyn before he became president. This seems to have been before the drunkenness took hold. It also doesn’t show his uncritical adulation of capitalism, which destroyed the Soviet economy and caused massive unemployment and poverty.

Way back in the 1980s when I was at College, I used to buy Pravda International occasionally. It was, very roughly, an English language version of the Russian Communist party newspaper, but with articles also drawn from the other Russian newspapers and magazines Izvestia, Argumenty I Fakty, Moscow News, as well as by the English editions own staff. Like many magazines over the years, it seems to have folded due to lack of interest. I tried to buy it from my local newsagent, but found out that it was unavailable. The two big magazine distributors had divided Bristol up between them, and one of them wouldn’t carry it. So guess which half of Bristol I was in.

I nevertheless kept hold of some of them, as they were records of an exciting, historic time. This was when Glaznost and Perestroika were in full swing, the Soviet Union was being democratised according to Gorbachev’s belief that democracy and Communism could be combined to produce a new, vigorous, prosperous Soviet Union. The Soviets were opening their borders and allowing western media into the country. The Cold War was thawing rapidly, and right across the Communist bloc censorship was being lifted. The Soviet people were making their voices heard, and books, plays, poetry and art that had previously been banned were now being published and publicly discussed. Stalin and his minions stood, thanks to dissident Marxist historians like Roy and Zhores Medvedev, openly condemned as monstrous mass murderers. And the families, friends and loved ones of his victims organised to demand memorials to the millions he had murdered. And instead of hatred, distrust and the looming threat of nuclear holocaust, for a few years it looked like the peoples of the West and East would live as friends and co-workers. The missiles were being decommissioned, the silos filled in. Across the world it seemed that our peoples would never again have to fear the threat of nuclear attack, or invasion from across the other side of the Iron Curtain.

And I also dug out the old copy of Pravda International out of a sense of mischief. RT UK and America have been under attack recently, accused of spreading Russian propaganda and interfering with our politics. What this means is that the Russian-owned news agency has actually done some good journalism, and uncovered the poverty, misery and despair caused by corporatist late capitalism and the gutting of the British and American welfare state and working class organisations. It’s what our own, domestic news networks should be reporting on, but instead they’ve been turned into part of the same corporate system, publishing nothing but mainstream propaganda for the corporatist elite and their puppets and shills in the political parties. I wanted to dig it out to show that the Russians have always had a media presence in the West, and there was a time when it also really frightened some capitalist interests. Although flicking through that issue of the magazine, many of the stories were about western businesses, including British firms, securing contracts to work with Soviet enterprises, as the economy opened up.

Russia, like everywhere else, is also suffering from environmental damage and climate change. Simon Reeve, in his recent TV journey across Russia from the Far East to St. Petersburg, stopped in Siberia to show the terrifying changes that are occurring in the Russian north. The permafrost is melting causing the remaining rock and soil to subside. This has created vast craters in the tundra. One Russian environmental scientist took Reeve to see one of these. It was staggering, the size of the vast Arizona meterorite crater in the US. It was as if a piece of land the size of a city had been scooped out of the Arctic.

These climatic changes are threatening the stability of many of the cities the Russians built up in the north. They’re also a further threat to all humanity, as they release methane, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than Carbon Dioxide. About 25 times more powerful. This threatens to create runaway global warming beyond the tipping point, to the point where the survival or human civilisation, if not the human species itself, is very much under threat.

Looking through this old issue of Pravda International, it was therefore particularly interesting to find an article by their staffer, Jennie Walsh, reporting the launch of a rock album by Greenpeace, released by the Soviet recording company Melodiya, to raise awareness of environmental issues.
The article, ‘Breakthrough for the Environment’, reads

The ecological pressure group Greenpeace has long highlighted the international potential of the environmental movement. The recent release of their rock compilation album, Breakthrough marks an important step forward for the campaign, and for Western music.

Two years ago Greenpeace chairman David McTaggart approached Ian Flookes of the Wasted Talent Artists Agency with a view to putting on a concert of Western bands in the Soviet Union in order to generate roubles for a Soviet-based Greenpeace campaign. Political problems prevented this at the time, but in the changing climate of perestroika the plans were restarted last year, though a compilation record was considered more appropriate.

‘After what happened at Chernobyl, I think the Soviet authorities have become extremely environment-conscious and their approach to Greenpeace and to the project has been one of great support’, Flookes told Pravda International.

With the full cooperation of the Soviet state record company Melodiya, who were granted independent status last year, Breakthrough is the first major release of contemporary Western rock music in the USSR.

It is the first time that Melodiya has been able to do a ‘normal’ promotion campaign, with many of the artists (who all gave their services free of charge) present at the Moscow launch in March. There was an incredible reception. One record store queue was over 7,000 people, which is quite phenomenal – even by Soviet standards!

The purpose behind Breakthrough, however, must not be forgotten amid such hysteria. Kate Karam of Greenpeace emphasised that in releasing the album, they wanted to educate as much as to entertain. Despite perestroika, it is still difficult to put out independent information in the USSR, and the album provided a vehicle for the distribution of a booklet highlighting the work of Greenpeace and the environmental problems of the USSR.

The profits from the record sales will be shared between Greenpeace and the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, one of the first independent, non-governmental organisations to be founded in the Soviet Union.

The money will be spent only on projects within the USSR. This is a major indication of the political changes that have taken place. Greenpeace is quite a radical organisation by any standards, and to have some of the top soviet scientists and public servants (including Velikov, vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) support them through the Foundation, has been vital to the project. It is also an important challenge – a challenge to get programmes started in the USSR while maintaining the traditional Greenpeace principle of direct action.

Several environmental projects have now been formally agreed. Greenpeace will use some of the funds from the record to organise an East-West exchange programme in cooperation with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, for children to study environmental problems. Projects in the pipeline include work with the International Foundation to establish a central clearing house for information on atmospheric pollution problems and trying to involve the Soviet Union in the campaign to stop the industrial pollution of the Baltic Sea.

‘We don’t want to impose our Western standards about the environment on the Soviet Union,’ explains Karam. ‘I think that’s a danger with many of the Western organisations taking advantage of the new political climate there. Greenpeace is going to Russia to learn about their specific problems, because it is wrong to develop homogeneous attitudes about the environment. We need to study and talk to people before we launch into setting up offices and membership drives. Getting educational materials out in Russia is a big enough challenge right now without going straight into direct action projects.’

The popularisation of ‘green politics’ in the West may be little more than rhetoric on the part of its leaders, but it has encouraged the critical eye to fall on eastern Europe with regard to its environmental record. The socialist system may have failed the environment as much as the capitalist, but the big difference is the West has had 10 years lead time with environmentalists pushing legislation through. ‘I think the question is now how bad the USSR’s record is, but what is going to happen over the next 10 years – not in the past 50. I don’t think its fair to criticise.’

Now that the Soviet authorities have made active moves to encourage environmental concern, particularly by creating a Ministry for the Environment, Greenpeace are keen to see whether other east European countries follow suit.

Breakthrough is to be released in all the east European countries as well as in the UK, USA, India, Australia and Japan, emphasising the international aspect of the green movement.

The release of the album worldwide, under the title Rainbow Warriors, will probably be slightly more of a gamble than it has been in the Soviet Union. Compassion fatigue in the West, however, might be overcome by the quality of the record.

There probably hasn’t been an album released yet, which features so many top musicians – U2, Simple Minds, The Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Sting to name a few. There are 26 tracks, all of which have recently been hits. For many, the album will probably have an intrinsic value just for this reason. The fact that it supports Greenpeace will be a bonus.

In the three weeks since the album was released in the USSR over 10,000 copies have been received on the forms that were enclosed in the information booklets.

The worldwide launch is on May 22nd and if it sells for reasons other than its musical content, its educational and mobilising potential could be as effective as the fundraising.

Now, unfortunately, we have had Russian hackers releasing scientific data in an attempt to discredit climate change and global warming, while Trump is also trying to stifle climate science, including the virtual closure of America’s Environmental protection Agency. He and the rest of the Republican party are determined that only the paid propagandists for the Koch brothers will be heard.

Energy Policy To Reduce Tony Abbott Emissions By 50%

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/10/2017 - 8:23am in

Malcolm Turnbull has released his long awaited energy policy, which aims to reduce hostile emissions from Tony Abbott by an average of 50% per year by the end of 2030.

“This contains everything I like in a policy, which is a bit of something for everyone who likes the cool me in the leather jacket, and a bit of something for the part of me that doesn’t want to be cornered by Tony Abbott in the parliament house toilets and given a wedgie,” said the Prime Minister. “The new National Enmity Guarantee mandates that all energy companies must produce a third of their electricity in such a way that it gets Tony Abbott off my back.”

Supporters of a clean energy target are disappointed that the new policy will not encourage renewable energy sources.

“A fifth of Australia’s energy needs could be provided by harnessing the steam off the faux outrage over Lisa Wilkinson leaving The Today Show,” said electrical engineer Kay Watthours from the Australia Institute. “The wage gap between Lisa and Karl is high enough to host a stored hydro scheme that would light up the entire eastern seaboard.”

Proponents of carbon based power sources have also noted that there is enough energy stored in George Christensen to make the construction of a George Christensen fired power station that would meet the energy needs of the city of Mackay until the year 2050.

Peter Green

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter or like us on facebook.

On The Sociology and Philosophy of Science in and by Economists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/10/2017 - 7:42am in

Just prior to Hayek's departure from post World War II mainstream economics came what must be hailed as his greatest important contribution to economic science. It can be well understood if I make reference to the famous debate between Lerner–Lange and Ludwig von Mises (1935) over the role of the supply-and-demand mechanism in a socialist state. Lerner (1934), as well as Lange and Taylor (1938) quasi-independently, suggested that playing the game of parametric supply–demand auctioning could optimally organize a socialist society that had evolved beyond historic capitalism.

Arguably this general notion might be traced back to Adam Smith's legendary Invisible Hand, which led society unconsciously to achieve the maximal “general good.” Individual avarice, under market checks and balances, achieved this happy state. A more sophisticated version of the same idea came in the 1890s from Pareto (1896–97) and Barone (1908), long before Arrow-Debreu breakthroughs. Pareto deduced the mathematical theorem that the determinative equations of Walrasian general equilibrium mimicked exactly the maximizing welfare conditions for utopias.

By contrast, Mises in his polemics prior to Lerner–Lange, had contended that only under actual capitalism could one even define a post-Bentham welfare economics. Autobiographically, I can testify that most economists born after 1910 at that time would have voted Lerner and Lange to be the debate winner, with Mises as the prime loser. (Even my Harvard mentor Schumpeter saw some merit in the Lerner–Lange conjectures.1)

In the 1940s Friedrich Hayek in an invited Harvard lecture introduced a new dynamic element into the debate. Call it “information economics.” The broad competitive markets, Hayek proclaimed, were the recipients of heterogeneous idiosyncratic bits of individuals’ information. Playing for matches rather than for real money or blood was as different an economic dynamics as night is from day.

I was not at all the only one to be converted to the view that, as between Abba Lerner, Oskar Lange and Ludwig von mises, Friedrich Hayek was actually the debate's winner. (After the U.S. State Department persuaded Lange to go back to Stalinesque Poland, Lange reportedly lost his lust for auction markets.)

The jury of history judges innovators not by adding linearly their plus and minus contributions. Hayek's 1974 Stockholm Nobel Prize was importantly won for him by his notions about decentralized information economics discussed that day in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Never mind that Hayek over-praised the optimality of individualistic spontaneity. Charles Darwin's genius long earlier had eclectically enumerated both the plusesand minuses of individualistic natural selection.

I do not know how much George Stigler had ever been influenced by Hayek when later Stigler's work on information economics helped bring him his Nobel medal. Senior Robert K. Merton, as sociologist, historian and philosopher of history of science, taught us again and again that great things come in pairs and triplets. Darwin had his Wallace. Newton had his Leibniz. Leibniz had his Newton. Thomas Kuhn documented the case that the fundamental Law of Conservation of Energy had a dozen different fathers. Although what each had discovered was not precisely the same thing, maybe at most one of the dozen did understand all the nuances.--Paul Samuelson (2009) "A few remembrances of Friedrich von Hayek (1899–1992),"  Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Two long-running themes of my blogs on the philosophy and history of twentieth century economics, are (a) that ideas from the philosophy of science played a big role in cutting edge discussions among leading economists, and (b) that some ideas we associate with philosophy of science were developed or articulated within economics. On (b) I have primarily focused on the role of Kuhnian ideas within economics (between 1870-1960) [for an overview see here]. One reason to mention Kuhn is to note the otherwise peculiar fact the leading and influential ,professional economists of the age (Samuelson, Stigler, Buchanan, -- all Nobel laureates --) were serious and leading historians of economics, while simultaneously arguing for and writing textbooks with a conception of a professional economist that left little relatively room for the history of economics inside the discipline. 

Because, yesterday, I was asked to comment on a précis of Roger Backhouse's first part of his biography of Paul Samuelson, the aptly titled, Founder of Modern Economics: Paul A. Samuelson, I returned to some of Samuelson's many biographical sketches of others. He excelled in the genre, in which he mixed personal memory, character sketches, and a kind of summing up of theoretical significance. In one of his earliest contributions to genre, his (1946) obituary of Keynes, he pretends as if the significance of a biographical sketch is merely short term: "The personal characteristics of the scientist can only be captured while memories are still fresh; and only then, in all honesty, are they of maximum interest and relevance." Yet, he closes the 1946 obituary with a footnote (#15) in which he writes, " should like at this point to pass a clue on to the future historian of economic
thought." What follows is a rather clever suggestion of the influence by Keynes on Joan Robinson 1933--the effect of which is to diminish the originality of Robinson and, thereby (because Samuelson is a canny operator) to diminish her would be future influence. Because Keynes is dead, he can't set the record straight on her behalf (if he would have been so inclined). So, in stroke he has undercut one of the sharpest operators of his time.  Even if you don't agree with my interpretation of the footnote, the wording of the footnote shows that is also playing a long game in the service of posthumous fame and score setting.

Samuelson exhibits here the marks of a Kuhnian legislator, who can operate at multiple dimensions, short term and long term, but also bring together different kinds of concerns (recall this post on Samuelson's biographical sketch of Viner). This ability to play chess on multiple boards at once is characteristic of Samuelson's command of the discipline even at a young age. (He  was 31 in 1946.) While Samuelson pioneered many techniques, his greatest skill was, in my opinion, to write the paper that would help the rest of the economics discipline understand what the issues were on any topic. He did this time and again, and his citation score is monstrously large.   

As an aside, Samuelson's biography of Keynes is full of gems, but the most revealing about Samuelson is this one:  Keynes, who became a celebrity outside academia with the Economic Consequences of the Peace, "met the practical men of affairs on their own ground and won the reputation of being an economist who knew how to make money." Samuelson would become a celebrity and wealthy with his textbook and trading success.

Okay, let me now turn to the final paragraph I quoted above from the Hayek biography. If we ignore the interpretation of Adam Smith (and the amusing and not wholly false proposal that Smith is the founder of Socialist Utopias as opposed to the Stalinist kind),* the comment on the context and significance of Hayek's greatest contribution to economics is judicious. But it is a bit surprising to see Samuelson take yet one more pot-shot at George Stigler (who had died in 1991). Now, you need to know that Samuelson and Stigler knew each other from the The University of Chicago of the mid 1930s, where Samuelson was a precocious undergraduate and Stigler one of the leading graduate students. They were both greatly influenced by Frank Knight and Jacob Viner. But Samuelson developed into the leading 'centrist' (his own words in the biography of Hayek) technocrat, whereas Stigler became one of the leading lights of the Chicago school. (As Samuelson makes clear Hayek pretty much left professional economics after 1945.) I have repeatedly explored their debate that originated in the status of welfare economics (see here, and follow the links back) in 1943.

But Samuelson does not merely suggests that Stigler won the Nobel for not quite original, cutting edge work. He also introduces the great sociologist of science Robert K. Merton to reinforce his point. Now, Merton had been a colleague of Stigler's at  Columbia and (together with Talcott Parsons) a great influence on Stigler's conception of science (recall also this post.) Stigler loved to quote Merton in his methodological papers, and there is no doubt that when Stigler wrote Kuhn just after Structure appeared to inform Kuhn that Kuhnian ideas were developed by economists like himself, they had drawn on Mertonian insights. But the plot thickens (as Backhouse gently reminded me yesterday) because Merton was also the father of the economist Robert Merton (and another Nobel laureate which he won for his contribution to the famous option price formula named after Black and Scholes). Merton and Samuelson wrote an important and widely cited text  from the "perspective of a model in which agents can revise their decisions continuously in time." 

It's quite clear that Stigler, who was something of an attack dog, is being treated as the lesser light and being likened to Wallace (and that Hayek is more akin to Darwin). And then for good measure, the reader is reminded that there are good odds that neither Stigler nor Hayek truly understood what they had contributed: there can be only one who understands all the nuances, and that's Samuelson.


*I have noted that Lange's main contribution to economic methodology -- the significance of computer simulating markets  -- was developed after he returned to Poland.  

RT Video of Teachers’ Demonstration in Washington against Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary. She’s a multimillionaire member of the family behind the Amway pyramid scheme, who has never attended a public, that is, state school in her life, and as a bright red corporate Republican, hates them with a passion. She, like her master, Trump, wants to privatise them, and turn them into charter schools. This means that they will be able to circumvent the state legislation regulating teaching standards, the pay and conditions of teaching staff, just like Academies in the UK. And in the case of America, they will also be outside the legislation outlawing the teaching of religion in schools.

Teachers in America, like those in Britain, are extremely worried and angry. This is a video by RT America of a demonstration by public school teachers outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue Hotel in the state of Washington last Friday, 13th October 2017. The assembled educators have placards proclaiming ‘Stop Fascism’, protesting the privatisation of the American school system, and demanding an end to the road from school to prison. I don’t know the particular symbolism, but some of the female demonstrators lined up to wear 17th/18th century dress with red capes, holding placards, which read out ‘This nightmare will end’.

Mike and I both went to Anglican church school in Bristol, and I have absolutely nothing against the teaching of religion in schools nor the state supporting faith schools. I’m not a secularist. Religious education in British schools hasn’t prevented the increasing secularisation of society. Religion, and more recently the attempts of secular philosophy to grasp with the deep issues of humanity’s existence, morality and meaning, have been part of human culture and identity for centuries, if not millennia. It can also be argued that we need proper teaching about each others’ religious beliefs as society has become more plural and multicultural, so that children do not get distorted or bigoted pictures of our fellow citizens and their religious beliefs or secular philosophies.

But I’m also aware that American society and educational tradition is different, and that there are quite legitimate concerns that what these schools will push is not education, but indoctrination. Just as there are concerns over here about the extremist agenda pursued by some of the new faith schools established in the UK.

Mine and Mike’s mother was a junior school teacher for many years, and I did my first degree at an Anglican teacher training college, and so have some understanding from the inside of what teachers face. Contrary to what the Republicans and Conservatives would have us all believe, teachers as a rule don’t want to indoctrinate children with lesbian feminist cultural Marxist propaganda, although they do want to make sure that girls as well as boys reach their academic potential, and they do have a statutory duty tackle prejudice, including homophobia. But most of all, teachers want to stand in front of a White board and teach. And those I know, who’ve done it state that it’s immensely rewarding. They want to see their pupils do well, and become bright, inquiring members of society. They want to pass on the interest and passion they have for the subjects they teach, whether English, maths, science, history, whatever to the children in their care.

I’m perfectly aware that there are some terrible teachers. But the good far outnumber the bad. Teachers in this country have been appallingly treated by successive governments ever since Margaret Thatcher, and the attempts to privatise, or part-privatise schools through their transformation into academies and charter schools threaten educational standards, as well as the pay and conditions of the teaching staff themselves. This country has suffered from wave after wave of qualified teachers leaving the profession as conditions have become worse, demands increased, and in some cases even dangerous. There have been cases where teachers are assaulted. At the same time, like other public sectors workers, pay has been cut or frozen. They have not been given the support they need by the authorities, and in the case of the Republicans in America and Conservatives over here, they’ve actually been demonised and vilified. Over the decades newspapers like the Scum, the Heil and even the Torygraph have run article after article trying to scare the British public with stories about how left-wing teachers are indoctrinating Britain’s children. Under Cameron, we had Michael Gove whining about history wasn’t being taught properly. It should be more patriotic, with children taught the approved Tory version of the First World War, rather than Blackadder. As Mike pointed out in a series of articles he put up about it, this would be to distort history for the Tories’ own benefit. As well as mistaking a comedy, based on history, with history itself.

In the 1980s, my mother felt so strongly about the threat to British education that she and the other teachers in her union took industrial action. As did very many others. This was not done selfishly to maintain their own privileges at the expense of their children. It was also because they were very much concerned that unless strike action was taken, the Tories would continue to run down the British education system. As they have, and Blairite New Labour as well.

The transformation of America’s public schools into charter schools is undemocratic, and hasn’t just been done by the Republicans. Obama also pushed for it. And like Blair in England, schools were often taken out of the state sector and made charter schools against the wishes of the community, parents, teachers, community groups, pastors and clergy. The Black community in particular has been threatened by the fall in educational standards that they represent. A year or so ago the veteran civil rights organisation, the NAACP, came out against them. There are books over here about the failings of academy schools. One of the pamphlets I’ve written is against them. If you want a copy, just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

But DeVos and the corporatists want a privatised school system both as a source of profit and because they would transform the school system from proper education, to a system of creating a passive workforce, who have enough knowledge to work for their corporate masters, but not enough to question, think for themselves, or even to be able to participate fully in art and culture. Art and music along with other humanities are being dropped from the curriculum in Britain as schools concentrate on the STEM subjects. And this is harming our children’s education.

C.P. Snow talked of the ‘two cultures’. He felt that there was a real gap between the arts and the sciences, so that the two formed distinct, separate cultures with little contact between each other. I think his fears, however true they were when he was writing, are somewhat exaggerated now. Science and mathematics has inspired much art down the centuries, as you can see from the weird paradoxes of Max Escher or the new scientific experiments that were painted during the 18th century by Wright of Derby. And scientists and science educators like the late Carl Sagan and even Richard Dawkins have expressed an extensive knowledge and keen appreciation of art.

This is why teachers are protesting against academies and charter schools: they want to preserve proper educational standards. They want to make sure that the poorest children have the same opportunity to achieve as the wealthiest. They want education to receive its proper status as a public good, not the preserve of the affluent, or simply another revenue stream for a grotty multinational like Murdoch’s. And although in Britain religion is taught, or supposed to be taught, in schools, there are safeguards and legislation against indoctrination. And teachers wish to preserve those as well.

So stand with your community teachers and teaching unions, and don’t let the Republicans in America or the Tories in Britain turn your school into an academy.

The March of Science #8

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/10/2017 - 11:21pm in



Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers - What the fraud?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/10/2017 - 12:13am in


ads, Science

This ad for "Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers" was found in the May 1963 issue of "On the Q.T." magazine. In case you're somehow unaware of the enduring sociological legacy of On the Q.T. magazine, here's a couple of sample covers from the same year:

So, hard-hitting investigative journalism, of course. On the Q.T. may have been completely justified in calling itself "The CLASS Magazine In Its Field" in the same way one might be able to honestly say "This here is the handsomest maggot in this dead varmint carcass." The qualifier "in its field" isn't flattering.

Within it's pages, as you may expect, fascinating writing abounds, but our attention was particularly drawn to a full-page ad for "Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers". Here's an advertising pro tip. Hyphenate words that your readers may be too ignorant to pronounce all in one breath. They'll appreciate you simplifying all that fancy tech talk regarding second-grade scien-tific prin-ci-ples. Anyway, here's the ad:

Click it to big it, baby.The biggest text in the ad. "LIKE GETTING FREE TIRES" grabs the attention of your ideal consumer - those who feel cheated when they need to spend money on normal automotive wear items. "There's got to be a better way!"

There is! If you mount two eight-inch "gyroscopes" on your front wheels of your mushy boat car, you will enjoy the following benefits:

-Your car will ride more safely and smoothly by preventing the front wheels from deflecting to one side or the other on bumps. (Vaguely possible, but not with these things.)
-The front wheels will resist bumps. (Not possible.)
-Parts on the steering rack will not wear out. (Sort of, but not really.)
-The tires will last much longer. (Sort of plausible, if the previous claim is true, which it probably isn't.)

So what are these things? They look like rings with two crescent-shaped weights in them, and what look to be three adjustable bolt cups that can slide around the rings a little bit, allowing for different lug spacings. They look they're about eight inches in diameter, and can't weigh more than a couple of pounds each.

There is even a picture of a lucky motorist bolting some Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers to his wheel. You remove a few lug nuts, put the stabilizers on, and reinstall the lug nuts.

The ad relies upon you having no experience playing with a gyroscope gyro-scope. If you have, you'll recall that the gyroscopic effect pretty much resists rotation only against the plane of the spinning rotor. The gyroscope doesn't care about sliding up and down, or left and right.

The claims about smoothing out bumps can't be true. The gyroscopic effect of the rings will resist sudden steering inputs only, and will freely move up and down with the actuation of the suspension. Granted, in the case of pretty much every domestic car in 1963, steering and handling was vague at best, and could be accurately described as "swimmy". Sudden bumps could easily yank the steering wheel around.

Not to mention the fact that, the less a gyroscope's rotor weighs, the faster it has to spin in order for it's gyroscopic effect to be felt. You'd probably need to exceed the maximum possible speed of the vehicle before Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers could begin to work their magic, and by then the tires would probably have flown apart from the centrifugal force of their rotation.

If the Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers did impart any gyroscopic effect to the front wheels, they might keep the steering rack from changing direction suddenly over stutter-bumps. If that were the case, it might extend the life of the components of the steering rack, like the tie rod ends and various bushings.

However, none of this stuff matters, because the Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers are tiny compared to the diameter of the wheel. Also, their mass (and subsequent gyroscopic influence) is nothing compared to the combined mass of the wheel and tire (about seventy pounds) which have their own natural gyroscopic effect due to their rotation as the vehicle travels. Any gyroscopic benefit of the product, if it were to spin fast enough - which it can't - would be vanishngly small, relative to the wheel's own gyroscopic effect. In order to do anything, the Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers' size and weight would have to be greater than that of the car's wheel, and that would introduce problems like being unable to steer the car, and the car's suspension and steering components being subjected to stresses several times greater than their designed capacity.

So, the Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers can't possibly have the intended effect. If anything, they might interfere with the lug nuts holding the wheel on. So, at the very least, if you were to buy some Gyro-Scopic Stabilizers, you might get to enjoy a scientific demonstration of your wheel's natural gyroscopic effect as it rolls happily away from you while you're driving, having been freed of your vehicle's tyranny by your new Gyro-Scopic Stabiliers. It would have been easier to just pay attention in grammar school science class.

Is Basic Income the next big population health intervention?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/10/2017 - 9:40pm in

Thanks in part to the health sciences, there is widespread public acceptance that being poor is bad for your health.

The post Is Basic Income the next big population health intervention? appeared first on BIEN.

What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Do for Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/10/2017 - 8:02pm in

Adina Roskies, professor of philosophy at Dartmouth College, discusses neuroscience and philosophy in a recent interview with Richard Marshall at 3AM:Magazine.

Here are some of the relevant excerpts:

On whether neuroimages can reveal mental content:

Neuroimages are a far less direct picture of what they aim to measure than are photographs. That said, there are parts of the brain, that, if you could read out the neural activity, would present something like a distorted movie of what the person saw (see work from the Gallant lab). But fMRI does not yield this without a lot of intervening modeling and analysis.

On whether neuroscience answers questions about determinism and freedom:

I think the successes of neuroscience give us inductive evidence to believe that our brains are very complicated biological machines, with no necessity for invoking spooky stuff. As such, they must be subject to physical laws. But nothing that neuroscience has yet shown (or will, I argue) suggests that determinism is true—neuroscience just isn’t the right kind of science to make that determination. And I think there are viable forms of compatibilism that make the question moot—that the truth of determinism isn’t the question that freedom hinges upon.

On what neuroscience can contribute to questions in metaethics about moral motivation:

The belief [that it is wrong to kill] very well may motivate you not to kill—it probably does. But it doesn’t have to (it is not a necessary consequence), which is [what] motive internalists claim. It is a common causal concomitant of the belief. I believe there are people who avow having certain beliefs yet don’t act as they should if they have those beliefs, and don’t show signs of being motivated by them. I can imagine a perverse person that is motivated to do things he thinks are wrong. But mostly, I think that certain brain structures represent the world, and other ones represent or instantiate motivational attitudes, and that these can be physically dissociated, and thus are only contingently, and not necessarily, connected.

On how newer techniques in neuroimaging don’t just tell us about where in the brain mental functions are occurring, but also about the structure of mental representation:

I have no doubt that mental functions are consequences of brain function. If all we could do was locate where in the brain they occurred I wouldn’t find it that interesting, and Fodor and friends are happy to characterize neuroimaging as only being able to locate places in the brain. But clever use of imaging can tell us much more. New analytical techniques enable to extract information about abstract representational structure from the neural signal, and while the information is coarse-grained, it is beginning to reveal fascinating things about the nature of object representation, face representation, etc. It also points us toward where in the brain to look with other neuroscientific tools, or in other animals. The early caricatures of neuroimaging as just telling us where things happen fail to adequately appreciate the real purchase that new neuroimaging analysis techniques promise to give us on neural representation. So far imaging is one of the best tools with which to explore (if cleverly deployed) the holy grail of cognitive science: the neural basis of mental representation.

On the prospects for artificial intelligence:

So far, we are not in a world where there is an artificial general intelligence. I am still skeptical that we will design a machine in the near future whose intelligence is domain general, and even more that we will design something sentient, but I am very impressed with the advances in cognitive tasks made recently with deep learning. If we can manage to make a machine that self-organizes and learns to deal with an open-ended array of cognitive tasks, I’m prepared to eat my words. And then we’ll be in a philosophically very interesting (and potentially very dangerous) situation.

The interview also covers other aspects Roskies’ work as well as some thoughts about the status of women in philosophy. You can read it all here.

Greg A. Dunn, “Hippocampus II”

The post What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Do for Philosophy appeared first on Daily Nous.