Friday, 5 November 2010

The Republican Dilema

Now that they have used the wave of Tea Party media coverage and feeling to sweep the House of Representative the Republicans now have some serious problems to face. They conducted a well managed and targetted campaign against an either naive or haplessly inept Democrat campaign, where they must have believed Obama fever would have carried them through.

The problem is using the Tea Party publicity machine is a dangerous thing as the Tea Party is something not easily controlled. Not only did they mess up potential senate wins (which would have given them a majority in the Senate as well) in Delaware and Arizona, but the Tea Party agenda is to log-jam government, which is not in the interests of either the GOP or the government. Of the new representatives 40 are Tea Party backed and there are others who might join a Tea Party caucus in Congress. GOP leaders do not have to pay it much attention as they can still defeat the Democrats without these votes but how to deal with them without upsetting Tea Party sentiment in the country that they used to get elected. They certainly cannot repeal the healthcare bill as Obama can veto, so as they say their only chance is to make sure he does not win another term. There lies the catch.

Parties are usually run by a ruling committee (in the UK we call them the grandees for the Conservative party and this is a useful term) and the Tea Party like all grass-roots movements hates committees but is also subject to control by a charismatic leader. One possible leader is Sarah Palin but she might be damaged seriously by the result in Alaska, where the Tea Party will lose to the GOP. Rand Paul is another possibility, but he does not have broad appeal and he is not a great speaker. So this leaves Rubio who is the most likely leader for the movement in congress.

The biggest dilema facing the Republican leadership is who will be the candidate for 2012.

Now if I was the Democrat leadership I would be hoping the Tea Party bubble amongst core Republican voters keeps going for until the end of the primaries, and hope that Palin recovers from her set-backs. Then she will be the presidential candidate and the "hockey mom" is a sitting duck for an effective political campaign by the Democrats. Between her and Obama their is no comparison no matter how much the people hate him. The GOP know this and they know that any credible candidate could beat Obama while he remains this unpopular, but can they get the nomination for a credible (and most likely non-Tea Party) candidate.

The options that will be in the mind of the GOP grandees planning for the 2012 nomination boil down to:
  1. Unelectable Tea Party candidate wins Republican nomination, GOP defeated by Tea Party (Palin, Gingritch or Paul come to mind).
  2. Electable Tea Party candidate wins Republican nomination (Rubio comes to mind), becomes president and then applies his own agenda not the GOP agenda, effectively an Independent Tea Party President.
  3. Electable Tea Party candidate wins Republican nomination and Presidency, GOP surrenders to Tea Party control.
  4. A GOP non-Tea Party candidate wins the Republican nomination and the Presidency and the Tea Party fades into history.

Note in their thinking there is only one way they can lose from the current position in the polls and that is if like in Delaware they get an unelectable candidate. For the GOP option 4 is the best outome, but 2 might do depending on how radically diferent the Tea Party and GOP agendas become. So what to do with the Tea Party?

  1. Start under-mining them now but this will harm the GOP as well as the Tea Party.
  2. Embrace the Tea Party agenda knowing that two years is enough time that it might blow up in your face.
  3. Selectively destroy the reputations of potential Tea Party nominations for the Presidency.
  4. Start praying and do nothing.
I will leave Karl Rove to decide the strategy but I suspect he will go for number three.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

My Blogs

I am trying to find some central place to keep track of all of my blogs as I am now using Tumblr to keep track of my booksmarks as well as Yoono. Perhaps I should use Delicious as well ...

Anyway here are the Tumblr blogs.
Reliable Knowledge II
Education Resources
Environmental Regulation
Strings, Superstrings and Quantum Gravity
Women's Rights

Thursday, 8 July 2010

A couple of BIG mistakes in James Martin's - The Meaning of the 21st Century

Page 178 he is describing the impact of nanotechnologes with Non-Human Like Intelligence.

Vast bodies of data with NHL intelligence tools may convert homeopathic medicine from what some view as a black art into an engineering-like discipline

This is a very worrying statement as it suggests that there is some basis for homeopathy beyond the placebo effect. This underlines the weakness of NHL intelligence and the Google idea of a world free from hypothesis. You end up with correlation and not causation. You need to couple this with deductions about mechanism.

Page 229 he is describing the need to prevent terrorism

/It will be essential that religions recognize the goodness in other religions and accept the necessity to live with one another (as they do in the First World). It's critical to prevent the perversion of religions with philosophies that promote suicide killers.

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of the 7/7 attacks on the London Underground, by redicalised British muslims. My objection is to his use of the First World. The First World has had many religious wars and they have been quite recent (Ireland comes to mind). I would agree with everything else, it is just the bit in brackets which is first world arrogant.

Friday, 25 June 2010

I spy with my little eye scientists acting deceitfully

In my last post I said that highly cited papers become a stronger part of the literature than less cited papers and those that are never cited. I also said that the porportion of uncited papers now is similar to that in 1973 but here are some interesting graphs created by Scopus rather than from looking at citations in Google Scholar, which had suggested this 40-50% level of uncited articles.

So this suggests that actually only a very small percentage of articles are not actually cited and that over time this approaches nearly 0% for Bioinformatics and BMC Bioinformatics. This seems a little bit odd given the previous results. So what happens if Nature and Science are added to the chart?
Nature and Science have a similar number of uncited papers as the 1973 study and the study using Google Scholar. So what is happening that the Bioinformatics journals are more highly cited than Nature and Science? There are two possibilities:

  1. Scopus is incorrectly calculating the citations for the Bioinformatics journals (but how can this be if it does it right for Science and Nature).
  2. The scientists are fiddling the results to make sure that their papers are cited at least once by citing it themselves - maybe as a conference report or in a non-peer reviewed journal. Citations make careers and an uncited and unloved paper is no use on a curriculum. 
So scientists have learned to play the system, but only those who publish in the discipline specific journals seem to be playing. The big names who get the Nature and Science articles don't care. This is a response to the way Tenure is earned in the States and many other countries and the way funding is calculated by the RAE in the UK.

Citation and confidence - Bioinformatics as an example

How do you know an article is a good article?

We know that peer review is flawed and that it can let through bad articles while blocking actually good work. So how can we be confident about a piece of research? The more an article is cited, the more this article has become important to the community. This can either be citations by those who disagree but most often with those who agree with the work. So highly cited papers even if they are shown in the future to be flawed, have become a significant part of the literature.

As a little experiment I took the articles from 2001 in Bioinformatics of which there are about 819 including editorials and comments and lookd at the number of times they have been cited using Google Scholar. Only about 300 articles have ever been cited. So 500 have never been cited. Of those articles that have been cited the most cited has over 6500 citations and there are 10 articles with more than 500 citations.

This means that in the eight and a half years since the end of 2001 less than 40% of articles have been cited. This agrees with the results reported in Ziman - Reliable Knowledge for 1973 (p 130), where less than 50% of articles were cited within the first year after they were published. This is slightly surprising with the advent of the internet and the increase in open source publication which makes access to the literature wider, but this also reflects the massive growth of the literature in the last 40 years.

An Epitaph

Sadly I do not know whose epitaph this is or who wrote it, although it has Robert Stephens with a question mark beside it in my notebook.
Who made his own amends, who travelled his own way. He failed, as we all fail and perhaps more often than some. Yet he recognised fundamental things. Not that we are evil: for we are not. But that, by whatever name - self interest, impulse, anger, lust or greee - we are inclined that way and that is our tragedy, to know this can never change. Our duty to try at every moment to overcome it; and our glory occassionally to succeed.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Liberated Women

I am currently reading James Martin's The Meaning of the 21st Century. One of the interesting ideas is about the liberation of women and the effect this has on population growth and fertility rates. He breaks liberation into four phases:
  1. Teaching women to read increases the use of birth control and lowers fertility rates.
  2. Giving women jobs lowers the fetility rates further.
  3. Women become "liberated" rates fall again.
  4. Women become ambitious for the best jobs then rates are well below the replacement rates.
There is one statement about liberated women that I found amusing.
"Liberated women can enjoy sex, as men do, without having children - and because bringing up and educating children is far more expensive than it used to be, many couples are motivated to have small families." p63.
I think that was not the best choice of words - "women can enjoy sex, as men do". Who said that women did not enjoy sex already? I think that female liberation has been taking place as an "undergound movement" for a lot longer than men appreciate -Lysistrata and the poetry of Sappho is just one early example.

I can never understand men in a society that tries to treat women as less than human. You have to sleep at night and there is plenty of time to find a knife in your back or a Bobbit like part of you missing. In the end women will always win, even if there are periods in history where culture tries to subjugate them.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

TalkTalk and customer service - why nobody should use them.

I received a letter for Mr Simon Henderson who does not live and never has lived at my address from TalkTalk introducing them to their new account and giving them their account details. I had heard of people using other peoples' addresses for fraud before and so I was quickly on the phone to sort it out as someone was going to use my address to get free calls and then leave me having to persuade the phone company that nobody of that name lives here.

So I try to call TalkTalk and to warn them that someone is trying to cheat them. They should be happy that I am stopping this before they incur any charges. So why am I now so angry with them? Well here is a list of my phone calls.

  1. 7:30 Saturday June 19th - first a long queue then when I do get through they tell me they cannot deal with it and that I need to call back at 8am the following day (yes the next day is Sunday!!!!). Call time 10 mins 29 secs.
  2. 9:30 Sunday June 20th - I get the automatd message that will not allow me to continue without giving the phone number so I use the one for Mr Henderson's account. I get through to all the options and pick I want to leave TalkTalk. It goes through the menus and then says that it is closed and that it is open 7 day a week between 8 and 8. Call time 1 min 58 secs.
  3. The same need to put in a phone number so I use Mr Henderson's again this time no menu and I get a customer service person, who cannot hear me and then the line cuts off. Call time 1 min 27 secs.
  4. I get through to another customer service agent who listens to my explanation then puts me on hold to check the account before saying she needs to transfer me to the fraud department. I am transferred to the fraud department which has an answer phone saying there is nobody there now and please leave my name and number so they can call me back. Call time 5 mins 51 secs.
So my total call time is 19 mins 45 secs to leave a message on an answering machine for their benefit in trying to prevent them losing money. All of this on a 0870 number which is costing me. To say I am angry is to put it mildly. They have the worst possible customer service, their policies are shoddy and they show a level of business incompetence that beggars belief. The least they should have done is to suspend the account.

The bad news for Mr Henderson is that my house does not have a BT line. We only have Virgin as the BT line was cut when the ivy was cleared from the house. So it is impossible for anyone at this address to have TalkTalk.

My next call will be to Ofcom and will be a complaint about TalkTalk.


Friday, 18 June 2010


Diary entry from 2/10/1990
Today in chemistry we began Thermodynamics in which we were told that the statistical implicationsare not going to be taken into account as we were using the macroscopic analysis. This is an obnoxious proposition, it is like spaghetti without Bolognaise. The second law is purely statistical. It is done this way to keep it simple and prevent confusion as the statistical fluctuations only become significant at the microscopic level (below 100000000000000000 particles)

Friday, 21 May 2010

Quick Survey of Facebuzz

Facebuzz is a site which randomly connects people with video streaming and which can be connected to Facebook. You activate your camera and it links you to other users on the network. Is this a useful social tool or something that will turn into another dark corner of the internet. My bet was on the later and that it would not promote any kind of social involvement. So in one hour of clicking what did I find:

  • 70 Male
  • 34 No camera (this will be an over-estimate as some will be repeats)
  • 19 Nude males
  • 8 FemBots - video clips of near naked women 
  • 5 Female members
  • Total 138 connections

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Playing with opinion polls

Now assuming that voting intention polls actually sample properly and there is no Shy Tory Factor and Shy Labour Factor and assuming a smooth national swing (I know I should do it on a constituency basis) then averaging all of the polls for the week coming up to the election from all of the pollsters and using the BBC uniform swing predictor this gives the following results;

Cons: 34.2% CI 33.6% - 34.8%
Lab: 27.2% CI 26.5% - 27.9%
Lib-Dem: 28.6% CI 27.9% - 29.3%

This equates to the ranges of seat numbers based of the other parties getting minimum share when one party gets maximum share.

Cons: 263-285
Lab: 249-273
Lib-Dem: 85-99
Others: 28

So you cannot predict who will be the largest party on the poll data

Friday, 23 April 2010

Censoring of polls and the divided UK

This is a story from the Independent about THe Sun not publishing a YouGov poll which showed that the potential government people are least afraid of is the Liberal Democrats. The poll shows that half the population are scared of a Conservative Government and half of a Labour Government and show just how polarised the British vote is. But if they thought they would win the Liberal Democrats would actually win a landslide!!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

How to be wrong big time

I was just reading some feedback I gave after the EPSRC Systems Biology Meeting where I said that the Codon usage work of Prof. A. Carbone was not relevant to Systems Biology. I cannot think why I was so negative as I remember discussing her work with Prof. Johnjoe McFadden in the taxi and how important it could actually be. It might be very significant because it forces us to re-evaluate the Darwinian view of evolution as a universal tree of life. It makes it much more likely that the view of Manfred Eigen of an evolutionary Bramble Patch rather than a nicely branched tree is much more likely.

The key point is that codin usage amongst bacteria clusters them according to their lifestyles. These relationships are highly poly-phyletic - there is not a single ancestral line that can be traced between the organisms so this means there has to be considerable convergence in the evolution of lifestyle. This is actually a perfect example of how chemistry and physics constrain biology to end up with the same solution to solve the same problem but from many different directions. We see this in mass and flight speed in insects, birds and mammals - engineering defines the system.

The question is why is there a link between codon usage and life style? Here is a wild guess or two:
  • Environmental availability of resources will be similar for similar lifestyles - chemical restrictions.
  • Thermostability will be one of the driving factors.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Internet Polls

  • Is there an inherent bias in online polling data?
  • Are certain groups more likely to respond than others?
  • Is there such a thing as a rampant Liberal?
  • Zogby seemed always to underestimate Obama's polling
  • What about Fox/Sky News Polls/ Metro Polls
Nice article in Scientific American that shows how right and left are defined by a few characteristics.
Can the bias be shown to be systematic? If so can it be corrected?

Friday, 22 January 2010

61 billion-to-1 deal of the cards

There was a story in Metro about a group of four card players who were all dealt a 13 card run. The chances of this are "about one in 61,204,166,001" calculated Rhyd Lewis of Cardiff University, but the most interesting thing was that this could happen in the world about once very year if you estimate that 10 million people are playing cards worldwide every day and that each game involves ten deals.