Virtue signalling about plastics

Asda in the UK are apparently fighting plastics. This is not a joke. They actually wrote this.

Plastics are good. The fact that we have a material that can be used to make bags, coffee cups etc. so cheap we can afford to throw them away is good. Being able to throw stuff away rather than having to use the same item repeatedly is good. Not having to keep the same item and wash it or put up with it being dirty is good.

They write:

Introducing a zero profit re-usable coffee cup to give customers a great value alternative to single use cups.

Trying to make stuff that’s “zero profit” is bad. A company is supposed to make a profit. If you’re not making a profit that means people are not willing to pay you more than the cost of the stuff you’re using. So by not making a profit you’re making you and your customers worse off.

Phase out 5p ‘single use’ carrier bags from its shops by the end of 2018 and introduce a donation to good causes from the sale of its “bags for life” so that charities don’t lose out.

I prefer 5p disposable bags since I can use them as rubbish bags. So Asda want to charge me more for bags that are worse by my lights. Also I don’t really trust Asda’s judgement about what causes are worth supporting, so all this crap about charity doesn’t impress me.

Asda’s President and Chief Executive, Roger Burnley said:

“I want Asda’s customers to know that they can trust us to take the lead on the issues that really matter to them. So we have challenged ourselves to look at what more we can do to reduce the amount of plastic in our business, and within our industry as a whole.”

Roger apparently doesn’t care about the issue of being me being able to carry my shopping home. That’s my number one issue. Asda are pissing off a customer so they can virtue signal by attacking a great product of industrial civilisation.

Suicide contagion is bunk

Some celebrities have killed themselves and now “mental health experts” say that this may lead to suicide contagion:

Suicide contagion is a process in which the suicide of one person or multiple people can contribute to a rise in suicidal behaviors among others, especially those who already have suicidal thoughts or a known risk factor for suicide.

“If they’re already struggling with thoughts of depression or risk of suicide, they’re already trying to get information about how other people are experiencing it,” said John Ackerman, suicide prevention coordinator in the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Wanting to kill yourself is a moral issue, not a medical issue. Terms like suicide contagion exist to cover up the discomfort people feel at discussing suicide. A worthwhile discussion of a suicide would involve considering a person’s values, what choices that person had or thought he had and that sort of thing. Instead we make up stories about diseases causing suicide:

Moreover, suicide can be preventable — death should not be an acceptable outcome of depression, said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
To whom is the death unacceptable? If a person chooses to kill himself he finds his death not acceptable. If this professor is so squeamish that he won’t admit that, then what use is he?
“When you have heart disease or when you have certain forms of cancer, there’s a profile or a calculator of risk factors that’s done. So with heart disease it’s obesity, smoking, exercise, cholesterol, family history, and age. Same thing for suicide,” Lieberman said.

Heart disease is a fault in a person’s body. Suicide is an action a person takes. An action doesn’t have risk factors. A person takes an action because he has some motive for doing so. If you’re not talking about that motive, you’re distracting people from real problems, not solving them.

The article continues:

The statement noted that many people in the US do not have access to mental health services when needed.
A lot of people have access to “mental health services” they don’t want, i.e. – people who have been involuntarily committed or drugged, or threatened with commitment or drugging. For example, in the UK in 2015/16 the government reported that it involuntarily committed 63,622 people. Every time somebody consults a psychiatrist the psychiatrist has the option of using force against his patient. So the only people willing to consult psychiatrists are either ignorant people who know nothing about psychiatry or people who are willing to put up with being coerced.
If you want to actually help people who want to kill themselves, you should oppose this crap. If you want to punish them with imprisonment without trial, then you should at least admit that and then we can have a discussion about the morality of your position.

Contempt of court act 1981

In 1981, the British government passed a law called the Contempt of Court Act allowing courts to forbid publication of facts about a current court case, Chapter 49, 4(2) reads:

In any such proceedings the court may, where it appears to be necessary for avoiding a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in those proceedings, or in any other proceedings pending or imminent, order that the publication of any report of the proceedings, or any part of the proceedings, be postponed for such period as the court thinks necessary for that purpose.

This is a bad law.
One problem with this law is that facts don’t imply any particular conclusion.
Let’s say Peter was accused of raping Mary. A suitable set of facts may be used in a criticism of the idea that Peter didn’t rape Mary. For example, if Peter’s sperm was found in Mary’s vagina, then John had may have had sex with Mary and he may have raped her. John might hear those facts and think that Peter raped Mary.
There might be some other relevant facts that are not consistent with Peter raping Mary. For example, Mary had not been raped at midnight and John left Mary’s location at 11pm and didn’t return. If John heard those other facts and a suitable explanation John might decide Peter is not guilty.
So publishing facts doesn’t force people to reach a particular conclusion. Their conclusion will depend on other facts and the explanations that people present for those facts.
But suppose that John has some bias against Peter. Then perhaps John is eager that Peter should be convicted of rape even if Peter isn’t guilty. Perhaps if John hears a report that Peter was accused he will divide Peter must be harmed regardless of the court’s findings. Or perhaps John will try to get on the jury to get Peter punished. In that case, the reporter isn’t responsible for John’s conduct, so why should the reporter be punished?
Another problem is that this law is open to abuse.
Some particular case may be controversial because it is perceived as being part of a wider problem. People will want to discuss such a case and it may be difficult to find people who are neutral about the issue. But in such cases there is some problem with how the cases are being handled or understood. That problem should be addressed directly by critical discussion. The government may be tempted to suppress such discussion because it has unpopular policies on a particular policy issue. But that is precisely why such a law is bad, the government should have to deal with these issues. The government shouldn’t be forcing an unpopular policy on people because the policy might be bad and even if it is good it hasn’t been properly explained. Trying to suppress such discussion because of a particular trial is dealing with the symptom is not an adequate substitute for dealing with the broader problem.
Another problem is that the government may be corrupt on some issue. Government officials are fallible and some of them are bad people. Some government officials like hurting people. Some government officials like getting money or other goods from people by abusing the law. Some government officials hate particular non-violent ideologies and want to destroy those ideologies and people who hold them. Some government officials make bad decisions in particular cases and want to prevent their mistakes from being revealed. Some government officials take an irrational dislike to a particular person and want to destroy him.
The sections of this law forbidding people to publish material that isn’t a direct incitement to violence should be repealed. Those sections can’t be used in a legitimate way. Any party that wants my vote can have it if they make a credible campaign promise to repeal this law and other laws that are being used to destroy freedom of speech in the UK.
This law is being used by government officials to prevent commentary on particular cases now. It is not a dead letter. I won’t mention the particular cases, but anyone who is interested will know what cases I’m referring to anyway.

Tunnelling mistake

In a previous post I wrote about quantum tunnelling. In that post I said that the energy of the different instances of the particle undergoing tunnelling were not larger than those of the barrier. I reached this conclusion by looking at the terms in an analytical solution of the Schrodinger equation and estimating their magnitudes. However, estimation can quite easily go wrong and I thought I should check by doing a simulation. I have performed a simulation and my conclusion was wrong. Some instances of the particle tunnelling through the barrier increase their energy. The program that performs the simulation and produces the figures shown below can be found at this link. The program is written in Python because it has sparse complex number matrix libraries, which were needed for the simulation. The link also includes some references to papers used in writing the code.

Tunnelling involves a wavepacket interacting with a potential that has higher energy than the wavepacket. After the interaction some instances of the particle are present on the other side of the potential. I made the potential have a height of 1.1 times the wavepacket’s mean energy. The wavepacket comes in from the left, some of it is reflected to the left and some continues to the right after the wavepacket interacts with the potential, as shown in the figures below. The red line represents the potential, the blue line is square amplitude of the wavepacket, which gives the probability of finding the particle in that location.


The energy of a wave with wavenumber $k$ is $k^2/2m$. I calculated the energy spectrum at each time by doing a fast fourier transform, finding the square amplitude at each wavenumber $k$, which is proportional to the probability of finding the particle to have that frequency when you measure it. The fourier transform includes both positive and negative frequencies: the first half of the spectrum is the positive frequencies, the second half is the negative frequencies. I calculated the square amplitudes for both halves of the FFT and added up the amplitudes that corresponded to the same energy (the $+k$ and $-k$ amplitudes). I then took all of the resulting energy spectra and divided them all by the amplitude of the initial energy spectrum and plotted the resulting normalised results on a semilog scale. This allowed me to see whether the components with energies above that of the initial wavepacket increased or decreased. The results are shown in the figures below at the same times as the figures shown above except that the last figure is omitted. The red lines are positioned so that if the spectrum is above the horizontal red line to the right of the vertical red line, then there is a higher probability of the particle having an energy above what it had before the potential.fftnorm0fftnorm400fftnorm500

It appears that the energy of some of the instances of the particle increased after interacting with the barrier and in particular the probability increased for energies above 1.1 times the wavepacket energy: the energy of the potential. The original post will be updated after I publish this post.


The Conservative Party’s Philosophy

In a recent article Daniel Hannan wrote:

Would you go an hour out of your way to get £100 discount on a £300 dishwasher? What about going an hour out of your way to get a £100 discount on a £12,000 car? If you’re typical, you’re much more likely to have answered yes to the first question than to the second. Which, logically, makes no sense at all. Either an hour of your time is worth £100 or it’s not. If the trade-off is in your interest – and, for most of us, it is – then you should make it both times. If you happen to be a hedge-fund owner or a gilded public-sector princeling, then you might rationally say no both times. But there is no sound basis for saying yes to one and not the other.

Hannan goes on to say that the Conservative Party’s leaders believe this kind of thing and base policy on it.

There are many differences between the decision about what dishwasher you should buy and what car you should buy. Many people drive their car to work, so their income depends on having a car that works. A dishwasher saves you some time when dealing with dishes, but if it breaks down you’ll still be able to pay for accommodation and food. So the cost of getting the car decision wrong may be a lot larger than the cost of getting the dishwasher decision wrong. So a person may stick with looking at cars from dealers he trusts rather than go looking for £100 off on a decision that could cost him thousands of pounds if he gets it wrong. So Hannan hasn’t given any reason to think actual decisions made by real human beings are irrational.

Hannan doesn’t mention the fact that according to his own theory politicians are irrational since they are human beings. So politicians should not be trusted to make decisions either according to this theory. And yet, somehow, politicians are fit to make decisions not only about their own lives, but also about the lives of their subjects.

The Conservative Party is run by technocrats who believe they know how you should live your life better than you do. The Conservative Party is opposed to individual liberty because its leaders think you are unfit to make your own decisions. That is part of why they are dragging their feet on Brexit. It also explains their contempt for freedom of speech, and their imposition of bad policy like plastic bag charges. And that’s why I won’t vote for the Conservative Party. I have respect for individual liberty, they have contempt for it.

Howson and Urbach vs Popper

Howson and Urbach claim to have refuted Popper’s ideas in “Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach”. In Section 4g they write:

Philosophers, such as Popper and Lakatos, who deny any inductive role for evidence, and who oppose, in particular, the Bayesian approach take note of the that scientists often do deal with particular instances of the Duhem problem by proposing alternative hypotheses; some of these philosophers have suggested certain normative rules that purport to say when such alternatives are acceptable and when they are not. Their idea is that a theory that was introduced ad hoc, that is, “for the sole purpose of saving a hypothesis seriously threatened by adverse evidence” (Hempel 1966, p. 29), is in some way inferior. The adhocness idea was largely inspired by certain types of scientific example, which appeared to endorse it, but in our view, the examples are misinterpreted and the idea badly flawed. The following are four such examples.

In each of these examples, the theory that was proposed in place of the refuted one seems highly unsatisfactory. It is not likely that any of them would have been advanced, save in response to particular anomalies and in order to evade the consequent difficulty, hence the label ‘ad hoc’. But philosophers who attach inductive significance to adhocness recognize that the mere fact that the theory was proposed under such circumstances is not by itself grounds for condemnation. For there are examples, like the following, where a theory that was proposed for the sole purpose of dealing with an anomaly was nevertheless very successful.

4 William Herschel, in 1781, discovered the planet Uranus. Astronomers quickly sought to describe the orbit of the new planet in Newtonian terms, taking account of the perturbing influence of the other known planets, and were able to deduce predictions concerning its future positions. But discrepancies between predicted and observed positions of Uranus substantially exceeded the accepted limits of experimental error, and grew year by year. A few astronomers mooted the possibility that the fault lay with Newton’s laws but the prevailing opinion was that there must be some unknown planet acting as an extra source of gravitational attraction on Uranus, which ought to be included in the Newtonian calculations. Two astronomers in particular, Adams and Le Verrier, working independently, were convinced of this and using all the known sightings of Uranus, they calculated in a mathematical tour de force where the hypothetical planet must be. The hypothesis was ad hoc, yet it was vindicated when careful telescopic observations as well as studies of old astronomical charts revealed in 1846 the presence of a planet with the anticipated characteristics. The planet was later called Neptune. Newton’s theory was saved, for the time being. (See Smart 1947.)

Their account of Popper’s position is wrong. In “The Logic of Scientific Discovery”, Chapter 4, Section 20, Popper writes:

As regards auxiliary hypotheses we propose to lay down the rule that only those are acceptable whose introduction does not diminish the degree of falsifiability or testability of the system in question, but, on the contrary, increases it. (How degrees of falsifiability are to be estimated will be explained in sections 31 to 40.) If the degree of falsifiability is increased, then introducing the hypothesis has actually strengthened the theory: the system now rules out more than it did previously: it prohibits more. The introduction of an auxiliary hypothesis should always be regarded as an attempt to construct a new system; and this new system should then always be judged on the issue of whether it would, if adopted, constitute a real advance in our knowledge of the world. An example of an auxiliary hypothesis which is eminently acceptable in this sense is Pauli’s exclusion principle (cf. section 38). An example of an unsatisfactory auxiliary hypothesis would be the contraction hypothesis of Fitzgerald and Lorentz which had no falsifiable consequences but merely served to restore the agreement between theory and experiment—mainly the findings of Michelson and Morley. An advance was here achieved only by the theory of relativity which predicted new consequences, new physical effects, and thereby opened up new possibilities for testing, and for falsifying, the theory. Our methodological rule may be qualified by the remark that we need not reject, as conventionalistic, every auxiliary hypothesis that fails to satisfy these standards. In particular, there are singular statements which do not really belong to the theoretical system at all. They are sometimes called ‘auxiliary hypotheses’, and although they are introduced to assist the theory, they are quite harmless.

So Popper does not say that every hypothesis introduced to save an existing theory is bad. Rather, he sez that if a new hypothesis is introduced to save an existing theory it should be a real advance in our understanding and should be testable. The Neptune theory passes this test since knowing there is a new planet is an advance in our understanding and can be tested. So the Neptune example doesn’t refute Popper’s actual position, as opposed to the position that Howson and Urbach invented and then attributed to Popper.

Communications Act 2003

Count Dankula was prosecuted under the Communications Act 2003, Section 127, which reads:

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character;

There is no objective definition of “grossly offensive” or “indecent” or “obscene” or “menacing”.

Almost anything you say will be grossly offensive to somebody. For example, any Jew who communicates online will offend Nazis by the fact of his existence. So all Jews are guilty under this act. Everyone who is in favour of people being able to deal with one another by voluntary transactions in capital markets will offend communists. Many left wing people will be offended by anyone criticising the welfare state. Some right wing people may be offended by people advocating the welfare state.

The word “obscene” is in a similar position. What you consider “obscene” depends on your standards. It’s also not clear what “menacing” means. Making threats of physical violence was illegal before this law was passed. So presumably menacing means something else, but this hasn’t been spelled out.

The section continues:

(2) A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—

(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,

(b)causes such a message to be sent; or

(c)persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.

So if you try to annoy or inconvenience anybody using the internet “persistently”, then you’re guilty. People often have misunderstandings about whether an action was intended to be annoying. Also, people go out of their way to pretend not to be annoyed, so it’s often difficult to tell whether you’re annoying somebody.

So it is impossible to tell whether you’re obeying this law. And that means the government can prosecute anyone for anything they say online. I don’t think a mistake like this can be made innocently. Perhaps the government wanted to be able to destroy anybody they like. Or perhaps they are so sloppy that they passed this law without thinking about what it means. In either case, the government that passed this law, and all the governments since then that didn’t repeal it, are evil or negligent or both