Archive for the 'Games Empiricists Play' Category

Big Taxonomy strikes again

In a move possibly revealing their secret relationship with the Canadian Curling Association, the American Ornithological Union — a front organization if I ever saw one — is autocratically reordering the furniture of the universe. Citing “genetic” “information” from “scientists”, they have decided that snowy plovers are a distinct species, not a sub-species of Kentish plovers as previously thought, and thus must be known as Charadrius nivosus rather than Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus. This, as you may guess, causes distress, hangnails, gastroenteritis, and bureaucracy.

I would no doubt regard being declared a separate “species” as some kind of blatant eugenics program if the other Kentish plovers didn’t horde all the scones for themselves. I would also no doubt inform the AOU that I shan’t be back, if I’d ever been there. But, of course, “there” is nothing but an empty lot with emus nesting in it, as is clearly seen in the satellite photo below. Don’t be surprised if the next time they rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, it is to put you in one of them.

Eemuuus innn spaaaaaaace!!!

We interrupt

Pinko’s sly and understated cobagitation with important news.

jexter is BACK.

That is all.

fish vs shorebird file — part “Gators for Nader”

Back in February, on the occasion of Ralph Nader again declaring his intention to run headfirst into a brick wall for President, Sifu Tweety Fish of The Poor Man Institute decided that, a sufficient amount of something having somethinged, that the time had come around to annoy Nader supporters.

The current post, however, is not intended to annoy anyone and is not really about Nader, but rather about inconsistencies of American politics that make analyzing voting patterns very difficult.

In the comments to the aforementioned thread, fish posted the following:

Gore lost by around 750 votes. Nader got 97K votes in Florida. Bush got 200,000 votes from registered Democrats. 50% of all registered Democrats didn’t even bother to fucking vote in Florida.

Yeah, your right, it was Nader’s fault.

The part of this I want to focus on is “Bush got 200,000 votes from registered Democrats”.

While I have never looked at detailed data from the 2000 election, I did end up toying with data from Florida in 2004.

An early statistical analysis of the data from the 2004 election indicated that there might have been problems with the voting machines in Florida. My opinion at the time appears to have been that various articles had “quot[ed] these statistics indiscriminately” and that people on all sides had failed to recognize that “it was an incomplete analysis and [thus one should] not jump to conclusions”.

In the course of the discussion of that analysis, I took my own look at some of the data to try and figure out what was going on in some of the counties.

For example, the numbers for Taylor County looked like this:

Registered Republican 18.90%
Registered Democratic 75.60%
Total Registered 11481
Voted Republican (Bush) 5466
Voted Democrat (Kerry) 3049
Total Votes 8580
Expected Republican Votes 1622
Expected Democratic Votes 6486

The “expected” numbers just being the registration percentage applied to the actual turnout. Ignoring for the moment anyone not registered D or R, Democrats voted for their own candidate at less than half the rate expected and Bush received votes at over three times the rate expected and amounting to two-and-a-half times the number of registered Republicans.

When one considers that there were almost certainly Kerry voters who were not registered Democrats, the Democratic turnout looks even worse. And even if one assumes that:

  • every registered Republican turned out to vote and voted for Bush (2170), and
  • every registered voter who was registered neither Republican nor Democrat turned out to vote and voted for Bush (631)

that total (2801) would still require that 2665 registered Democrats voted for Bush. (Call this measure of required Democratic votes for Bush R.)

There are twenty-eight counties in Florida which voted for Bush in 2004 at nearly or over twice the “expected” (that is, percent registered R times total actual votes) rate (for eleven counties it was over 3x). These are all low-population counties: more than a third have fewer than 10,000 registered voters, and only two have over 30,000.

At the time, some people were pointing to results like this and screaming that it was clear evidence that the Republicans were stealing votes. If I recall correctly, I, too, may have believed this at first. In any case, I decided to check out what the voting history was in such counties in prior Presidential elections. For Taylor County, I found the following:

         Democrat       Republican         Third       Other
2004  Kerry    35.5%  Bush      63.7%                  0.8%
2000  Gore     38.9%  Bush      59.6%  Nader     0.9%  0.6%
1996  Clinton  44.8%  Dole      39.9%  Perot    14.3%  1.1%
1992  Clinton  35.6%  Bush      37.3%  Perot    26.7%  0.3%
1988  Dukakis  30.0%  Bush      69.1%                  0.9%
1984  Mondale  30.0%  Reagan    70.0%                  0.0%
1980  Carter   50.5%  Reagan    47.3%  Anderson  1.3%  0.9%
1976  Carter   62.3%  Ford      36.7%                  1.0%
1972  McGovern 15.5%  Nixon     84.5%                  0.0%
1968  Humphrey 18.6%  Nixon     15.7%  Wallace  65.7%  0.0%
1964  Johnson  39.1%  Goldwater 60.9%  Unpledged 0.0%  0.0%

Note especially the 1968 results.

The conclusion I came to at the time (based, to my recollection, both on this data and some independent confirmatory information) is that the counties in Florida which follow this pattern are rural counties with very conservative populations which are governed on a local level by Democratic establishments of a form little changed since Reconstruction. Thus, many people are registered Democrats because of how local politics works, but this does not correlate meaningfully with how these voters make their choice in a Presidential election.

Applying measure R — which is obviously an underestimate — to the twenty-eight counties in the group I’ve described one finds that there is an absolute floor of 47,314 Democrats who voted for Bush (17% of registered Democrats).

If one uses the number of votes by which Kerry underperformed estimated expectations, something like 85,000 votes for Bush probably came from registered Democrats in these twenty-eight counties. That too may very well be an underestimateA better figure would require the turnout figures broken down by party affiliation, which are not in the data I’m looking at. as it assumes no one voted for Kerry who is not registered Democrat. These counties are home to around 4% of Florida registered voters. There are, it stands to reason, rural areas in counties which include urban centers where this pattern also holds but where it is not visible in a coarse-grained dataset.

What I think this shows is that an unqualified statement like “Bush got 200,000 votes from registered Democrats” can not be effectively employed in an argument applied to a state where there exists a significant population for whom party affiliation with the Democrats is not predictive of Presidential preference. I have no particular point here to make about Nader or the 2000 election; I just consider this a useful example of the slipperiness of political statistics.

Watching the Detectives

Roundup of sciencey links cuz ScienceDaily wuz bein’ cool today:

  • Moray eels have a second set of “pharyngeal” jaws at the back of their throat which can extend into their mouth to drag the prey they’ve chomped on down their gullet. Yeah, kind of like in Alien.
  • Adaptive optics combined with a high-speed “lucky camera” is allowing astronomers to capture images from ground based telescopes which are sharper than Hubble images. Basically, if you take a bunch images, the atmosphere will distort each one a little differently and a composite least-distorted image can be constructed from the image set.
  • There are sequences of DNA that are “ultraconserved” between humans and mice; these are segments of the genome that remain unchanged since the last common ancestor of humans and mice 80 million years ago. It was suspected that any change to such sequences would produce either non-viable or reproductively sterile organisms, i.e. that the evolutionary selection pressure keeping these sequences from mutating was of the strongest order. However, scientists have bred mice with several of these sequences removed, and, surprisingly, there are no obvious deleterious effects from the removal. (Cue creationist munchloaf: “Hah! See — evolution doesn’t work! Preach the controversy!”)
  • Researchers are speculating that sonar in toothed whales (i.e. non-baleen whales, including dolphins) was developed in order to follow migrating cephalopods. Many squid spend the daylight hours at significant depths — 500 to 1000 meters or more down — but come much closer to the surface at night. In both cases, being able to find them with sound is handy.
  • Honeybees have been devasted this year by a phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) where honeybee colonies mysteriously lose all their workers. Researchers (using new-fangled rapid DNA sequencing equipment) have sorted through the genetic material found in CCD and non-CCD bee colonies and found that a bee paralysis virus discovered a few years earlier in Israel is, if not the culprit, at least a nearly universally significant marker for colonies at risk of CCD.

More Metaphors About Buildings And Food

??? recently recommenced our earlier discussion on metaphor and scientific thinking. I thought I might put my current response in a new post in the hope that others might be convinced to join the conversation. After all, what Three Bulls! reader doesn’t have a secret love of arcane discussions of scientific epistemology? Feel the wonkage!

Continue reading ‘More Metaphors About Buildings And Food’

Are mosquitos more real than chundermuffins?

??? left a long comment on whether it might be possible to discuss evolutionary processes without resort to metaphor. I decided to inflict my response on the front page of 3B rather than leave it in comments. And yeah, it’s pretty much as wonky as it sounds.
Continue reading ‘Are mosquitos more real than chundermuffins?’

Evolution drive


Warning: Biology wonkage, proceed at own risk

On the forum at Richard Dawkins’s site, I came across an exchange between Dawkins and a forum member describing “natural selection” as the “driving force of evolution”.

I’m bothered by this usage. For one thing, it seems like the kind of thing that can contribute to the rancorous debates in biology that sometimes strike me as more semantic than scientific. However, it is also possible that I’m not quite understanding what the intent of the phrasing is.

Continue reading ‘Evolution drive’

We’re in ur patents, ownin’ ur geenz

I’m curious as to what members of the 3B biologist infestation make of this report.

My first reaction was: why the hell did it take an “exhaustive four-year effort” “carried out by 35 groups from 80 organizations around the world” to conclude that “the human genome might not be a ‘tidy collection of independent genes'”? And why were scientists “surprised” about it?

Hasn’t that been known for at least a couple of decades? Or is there something about this I’m missing?

Is the project a way for the scientific establishment to hammer on some of the intellectual property travesties of the biotech industry? (“Why, yes, we do own the mammalian reproductive system, why do you ask?”) Is this an attempt to get the real scientific consensus through the skulls of those who are financially invested in believing otherwise?

What’s going on here? Also, the article feels like it might be tiptoeing around someone’s sensibilities, but I’m not sure whose.

Saturday Fantasy Baseball Wrapup

If your name is not Pinko Punko, Halford, Seitz, or Brando, you might just want to skip out right here. It gets gory ….

The league: Mixed 16 team head-to-head draft format, 5X5. We have $200 FA dollars and bid for draft position. I had the #8 pick overall, after bidding $33 for draft position. Very competitive league and lots of reserve spots.

By Round:

Chase Utley – the consensus #8 pick. Surprisingly, Jose Reyes slipped to #7. I wanted Ortiz, but he went #5
Derrek Lee – I wanted a basher to complement my middle infielder. It was him or Morneau, and I just hope he runs this year
Andruw Jones – Surprised he fell to me. The guy I wanted, Garret Atkins, went one pick before me
Jonathan Papelbon – I went along with the closer run to pick a guy I really see as the #2 closer out there.
Continue reading ‘Saturday Fantasy Baseball Wrapup’

Objects in mirror more distant than they appear

I thought I might do a post about some ideas related to heredity and genetics, which, given all the biosciency sorts lurking in the shadows of this site (let alone those sprawling atop it like sunning iguanas), will likely provide an excellent opportunity for embarassing myself. Hopefully, the simplifications I’ve chosen do not do a disservice to the scientific ideas. I also hope this succeeds at being comprehensible to non-biology nerds.


So, say it’s the 1930s and you’re fiddling with some bacteria. Pneumococcus bacteria, to be precise — the kind that causes pneumonia. As a rule, a pneumococcus bacterium produces a protective shell made of sugar, kind of like an M&M. Sometimes, though, it is possible to find pneumococcus that does not produce this shell.

Anyway, there you are cooking up broth from beef heartsFrom the direction of Boston, you hear: “Mmmm, beef hearts.” to feed your bacteria, and looking at all the nifty spots on your culture dishes, when Continue reading ‘Objects in mirror more distant than they appear’