Archive for epistemology

The Silver Standard

Posted in Revolution with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2016 by rgwallace

Ministry of InformationDid Secretary of Fracking Hillary Clinton lose Michigan in part because she supports the economic model that poisons water at home and abroad? Maybe. The connection struck me (as I learned later it had others).

But Bernie Sanders’s primary upset in Michigan, busting many a prediction, including FiveThirtyEight’s pooled polling model, clearly unveiled loaded epistemologies.

A number of oppositional wags–funny but accurate–have characterized polling in the U.S. as testing whether voters have adequately assimilated ruling class propaganda. That is, at heart all polls are push polls, part and parcel of managing expectation. Until they don’t.

A couple years ago, suffering a case of World Cup fever, I wrote three short paragraphs on Nate Silver, pointing out the Bayesian  on which his shop depends can be saddled with the premises of power, a problem far beyond mere technical disagreements.

The politics of the nomenklatura–rolling over systemic prime directives one time interval to another in the face of what it dismisses as stochastic noise–can be found down in the very mechanics of statistical modeling.

But what happens when the rest of the world begins to make itself matter? Do the models break down from more than just bad priors and missed predictions?

Is Ebola Vaccine-Resistant?

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , on November 20, 2015 by rgwallace

Ebola vaccine 1The Freudian unconscious also has a formal aspect and is not merely a matter of content: recall the cases where Freud interprets a dream so that what is repressed/excluded from its content returns as a feature of the form of the dream…the true secret of the dream is not its content…but the form itself. –Slavoj Žižek (2014)

News of Ebola in West Africa is ping ponging between joyous declarations the outbreak is over to abashed announcements of its return.

One is reminded of the Onion‘s farcical September 1939 front page: “WA-“. Both a denouement denied and, in the other direction, the return of the repressed.

Our group’s latest commentary, just published online in the International Journal of Health Services, a review and extension of previous work, proposes an explanation for the never-quite-ending outbreak,

[R]egional neoliberalism may affix the stochastic ‘friction’ of ecological relationships imposed by the forest across populations, which, when above a threshold, keeps the virus from lining up transmission above replacement. Export-led logging, mining, and intensive agriculture may depress such functional noise, permitting novel spillovers [across species] larger forces of infection. Mature outbreaks, meanwhile, can continue to circulate even in the face of efficient vaccines.

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Poultry of Minerva

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, HIV, Influenza, Organic agriculture, Sustainable farming with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2015 by rgwallace

Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Peter Shea, the Bill Moyers of the Twin Cities, for The Bat of Minerva show.

What began as a kind of intellectual portraiture, in which we explored how I got studying the evolution of infectious disease, spiraled into about as broad a thesis on the nature of disease and agriculture and prospects for a just future as I have compiled in one place to date.

The reason–and there is a reason–we talked in such a noisy place is revealed halfway through the interview.

For those night owls out there–or nocturnal bats or poultry off their counter-seasonal photoperiods–the show will be broadcasted locally Sunday midnight (Saturday night) on Metro Cable Network/Channel 6

Evolutionary Investigations

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , on March 26, 2011 by rgwallace

A few notes on the relationships shared by evolutionary biology, religion, capitalism and the left.

1.1 Establishment evolutionary biology—lost in capitalist devotionals—uses the failures of its mortal enemies—say, creationist science—to defend itself against all other kinds of critiques. A category error.

1.1.1 “But you are giving aid and comfort to the enemy…” is a common refrain about such critiques, one that attempts to refute an argument solely by assigning guilt by syllogism: Creationism attempts to counter evolutionary biology. Therefore all attempts to critique evolutionary biology support creationism.

1.2 In other words, you’re with us, or against us. As in any war, however, evolutionary biology and religion are as much partners as enemies, rationalizing each other’s ethos in opposition, while sharing much in thought and practice.

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Heart of Modeling

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , on September 15, 2009 by rgwallace

Joseph-CampbellGreed is often mistaken for humanity’s heart of darkness. Look instead to the rationalization that transforms the most rapacious pillaging into an act of benevolence. A one-ton bomb dropped on a peasant wedding party is dissembled into regret without responsibility or, baser yet, a tough love offered with warning enough its victims, until then on their happiest day, ignored at their own risk.

Massacring the poorest–by the pen or the sword–is abstracted into an industrial deduction no rough facts can peel back. In its desperate flight free, what evidence flutters out from between the secret policeman’s gloves serves in this framework as its own denunciation: the editor who publishes it loses his job, the journalist her access, and the whistleblower his freedom. Barbarism, backed by Ivy League pedigrees and the strategic brick of cash, can excuse itself with the right mix of red tape and inert banality.

The shock for some will be that even evolutionary biology plays its part. Set aside its more blatant frauds writing how the dead were inherently dumber than those who designed the bomb that killed them. As if even true it was alibi enough. In their unrequited loyalties the likes of Phil Rushton and Charles Murray speak as if they are somehow affiliated with the physics that went into the ordnance. No Einsteins these, the hangers-on refute themselves as soon as they open their mouths.

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