Monday, July 17, 2017

A letter to Winston Ewert

Winston Ewert, Wiliam Dembski, and Robert Marks have written a new book "Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics" Fair to say, I do not like it very much - so I wrote a letter to Winston Ewert, the most accessible of the "humble authors"...
Dear Winston,
congratulations for publishing your first book! It took me some time to get to read it (though I'm always interested in the output of the Evo Lab). Over the last couple of weeks I've discussed your oeuvre on various blogs. I assume that some of you are aware of the arguments at UncommonDescent and TheSkepticalZone, but as those are not peer reviewed papers, the debates may have been ignored. Fair to say, I'm not a great fan of your new book. I'd like to highlight my problems by looking into two paragraphs which irked me during the first reading: In your section about "Loaded Die and Proportional Betting", you write on page 77:
The performance of proportional betting is akin to that of a search algorithm. For proportional betting, you want to extract the maximum amount of money from the game in a single bet. In search, you wish to extract the maximum amount of information in a single query. The mathematics is identical"
This is at odds with the previous paragraphs: proportional betting doesn't optimize a single bet, but a sequence of bets - as you have clearly stated before. I'm well aware of Cover's and Thomas's "Elements of Information Theory", but I fail to say how their chapter on "Gambling and Data Compression" is applicable to your idea of a search. I tried to come up with an example, but if I have to search two equally sized subsets $\Omega_1$ and $\Omega_2$, and the target is to be found in $\Omega_1$ with a probability bigger than to be found in $\Omega_2$, proportional betting isn't the optimal way to go! Does proportional betting really extract the maximum of information in a single guess?

Then there is this following paragraph on page 173:

One’s first inclination is to use an S4S search space populated by different search algorithms such as particle swarm, conjugate gradient descent or Levenberg-Marquardt search. Every search algorithm, in turn, has parameters. Search would not only need to be performed among the algorithms, but within the algorithms over a range of different parameters and initializations. Performing an S4S using this approach looks to be intractable. We note, however, the choice of an algorithm along with its parameters and initialization imposes a probability distribution over the search space. Searching among these probability distributions is tractable and is the model we will use. Our S4S search space is therefore populated by a large number of probability distributions imposed on the search space.
Identifying/representing/translating/imposing a search and a probability distribution is central to your theory. It's quite disappointing that you are glossing over it in your new book! While you give generally a quite extensive bibliography, it is surprising that you do not quote any mechanism which translates the algorithm in a probability distribution.

Therefore I do not know whether you are thinking about the mechanism as described in "Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success": this one results in every exhaustive search finding its target. Or are you talking about the "representation" in "A General Theory of Information Cost Incurred by Successful Search": here, all exhaustive searches will do on average at best as a single guess (and yes, I think that this in counter-intuitive). As you are talking about $\Omega$ and not any augmented space, I suppose you have the latter in mind...

But if two of your own "representations" result in such a difference between probabilities ($1$ versus $1/|\Omega|$), how can you be comfortable with making such a wide-reaching claim like "each search algorithm imposes a probability distribution over the search space" without further corroboration? Could you - for example - translate the damping parameters of the Levenberg-Marquardt search into such a probability distribution? I suppose that any attempt to do so would show a fundamental flaw in your model: the separation between the optimum of the function and the target....

I'd appreciate if you could address my concerns - at UD, TSZ, or my blog.

Thanks,
Yours Di$\dots$ Eb$\dots$

P.S.: I have to add that I find the bibliographies quite annoying: why can't you add the number of the page if you are citing a book? Sometimes the terms which are accompanied by a footnote cannot be found at all in the given source! It is hard to imagine what the "humble authors" were thinking when they send their interested readers on such a futile search!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Some Pies for "The Skeptical Zone"

In 2015, there some 45,000 comments were made at The Skeptical Zone. Here are the top ten of the commentators (just a quantitative, not a qualitative judgement.) I'll stick to the color scheme for all of figures in this post... "The Skeptical Zone" has a handy "reply to"-feature, which allows you to address a previous comments (with or without inline quotation.) It is used to various degree - and though some don't use it at all, nearly 50% of all comments were replies.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Uncommon Descent" and "The Skeptical Zone" in 2015

Since 2005, Uncommon Descent (UD) - founded by William Dembski - has been the place to discuss intelligent design. Unfortunately, the moderation policy has always been one-sided (and quite arbitrary at the same time!) Since 2011, the statement "You don't have to participate in UD" is not longer answered with gritted teeth only, but with a real alternative: Elizabeth Liddl's The Skeptical Zone (TSZ). So, how were these two sites doing in 2015?

Number of Comments 2005 - 2015

year 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
UD  8,400 23,000 22,400 23,100 41,100 24,800 41,400 28,400 42,500 53,700 53,100
TSZ - - - - - -  2,200 15,100 16,900 20,400 45,200
In 2015, there were still 17% more comments at UD than at TSZ.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The "Discovery Institute" trembles before the mighty powers of DiEbLog!

Just kidding. It isn't. But they published some of the pages the absence of which I had criticized in my previous post: John G. West wrote an article on Dennis Prager Was Right: Atheists Are More Open-Minded on ID than Some United Methodist Officials, in which he included further pages from the poll which the Discovery Institute (DI) had ordered on the subject of being snubbed by the United Methodist Church.

I assume that this little blog mainly flies under the RADAR of the DI, but they most probably follow astutely the very amusing Sensuous Curmudgeon, where I raised the problem earlier.

So, as I have guessed there was a question Q9, regarding the religious beliefs of the participants of the study. Why did the DI need an extra day to put a spin on the answers to this questions? Did they think it to be especially juicy, so that they were able to get yet another article from it? Or were they annoyed that one third of the participants of the poll identified themselves as agnostic or atheists?

Let's wait and see for Q8 - the question for the degree of education. Perhaps some scientists named Steve were involved, that result could be unpleasant...

OMG - The Discovery Institute is Committing Censorship!!!11!!1!

Does the Discovery Institute (DI) want to keep its much coveted Censor of the Year Award for itself this year?

If you are interested in this kind of things, you will have noticed the tantrum John G. West and his friends are collectively throwing over at Evolution News & views (EN&V) because they were somewhat rebuffed by the United Methodist Church (UMC). Here is some background as it presents itself to me (EN&V's viewpoint may differ): The UMC is holding its ''General Conference'' once every four years. In May 2016, it will be taking place at the ''Oregon Convention Center''. ''Sponsors and exhibitioners'' may rent booths at the center to present themselves to the estimated 6,500 participants of the event. The DI was willing to pay the 900 Dollar - 1200 Dollar fee to become an exhibitioner, but their application was turned down. There may have been various problems, but unfortunately for them, it did not seem to match the fourth criterium for eligibility:

Proven Business Record: Purchasers must have a proven business record with their products/services/resources. Exhibits are not to provide a platform to survey or test ideas; rather, to provide products/services/resources which are credible and proven.
It is fair to say that the DI has not recovered from this blow yet- over the last eight days, there have been at least fourteen articles been published on this matter at EN&V. One of the highlights was this New Poll: Most Americans Turn Thumbs Down on United Methodist Ban on Intelligent Design: The DI spent the money it has saved on the booth to have a survey performed by SurveyMonkey. It asked:
The United Methodist Church recently banned a group from renting an information table at the Church’s upcoming general conference because the group supports intelligent design—the idea that nature is the product of purposeful design rather than an unguided process. Some have criticized the ban as contrary to the United Methodist Church’s stated commitment to encourage “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” Rate your level of agreement or disagreement with the following statements:
1. The United Methodist Church should not have banned an intelligent design group from renting an information table at its conference.
2. The United Methodist Church’s ban on the intelligent design group seems inconsistent with the Church’s stated commitment to encourage “open hearts, open minds, open doors.”
What surprised me: thought the question was obviously leading, still 30% didn't agree with the first statement and 22% didn't agree with the second one! Or, as the DI describes it:
More than 70% of the 1,946 respondents to the nationwide survey agreed that “the United Methodist Church should not have banned an intelligent design group from renting an information table at its conference.” More than 78% of respondents agreed that “the United Methodist Church’s ban on the intelligent design group seems inconsistent with the Church’s stated commitment to encourage ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors.’”
But here is the cinch: Though EN&V announced that the "full report" can be downloaded from here, it is obvious from the pagination that at least two pages are missing!

Enter panic mode: OMG! The Discovery Instituted is censoring its report! What are they covering up? Are they beating puppies? Like Darwin! They should get their own Censorship Award!!!!11!!1

The truth is a little bit less sinister: Survey Monkey asks you about your age (Q11), your gender (Q12), your income (Q13), your party affiliation (Q10) and the region you are living in (Q14). What is surprisingly missing are questions about your religious orientation and your education. These two characteristics are of obvious interest for a poll like this one - so, I am guessing that the questions Q8 and Q9 were about these matters. Maybe the results did not please the DI and thus, were omitted from the final report.

Edit: Instead of trying to claim that it was meant to be ironic, I just corrected an embarrassing spelling mistake in the headline...

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Uncommon Descent in Numbers - 2nd edition

Three years ago, I put up some pictures showing the number of comments and threads at Uncommon Descent. Now seems to be a good occasion to up-date some of this information.

1. Google Trends

Look for yourself: The phrase Uncommon Descent was most searched for in 2008. After that, everybody had bookmarked the site, so further googling became unnecessary. The same holds true for The Panda's Thumb - both sites are equally popular...

2. Threads per Month

The number of new threads per month peaked in 2011, but is still on a high level - though it seems to be decreasing. What makes all the difference is "News" - a.k.a. Denyse O'Leary - adding her news items. While in 2011/2012, those often were left uncommented, since 2013, they attract the attention of her fellow editors (though I got the impression that some commentators use them for their off-topic-remarks, while others just cannot let the copious factual inaccuracies stand uncommented.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Natural Probability on M(Ω)

Two weeks ago, Dr. Winston Ewert announced at Uncommon Descent a kind of open mike. He put up a page at Google Moderator and asked for questions. Unfortunately, not many took advantage of this offer, but I added three questions from the top of my head. The experience made me revisit the paper A General Theory of Information Cost Incurred by Successful Search again, and when I tried - as usual - to construct simple examples, I run into further questions - so, here is another one:

In their paper, the authors W. Dembski, W. Ewert, and R. Marks (DEM) talk about something they call the natural probability:

Processes that exhibit stochastic behavior arise from what may be called a natural probability. The natural probability characterizes the ordinary stochastic behavior of the process in question. Often the natural probability is the uniform probability. Thus, for a perfect cube with distinguishable sides composed of a rigid homogenous material (i.e., an ordinary die), the probability of any one of its six sides landing on a given toss is 1/6. Yet, for a loaded die, those probabilities will be skewed, with one side consuming the lion’s share of probability. For the loaded die, the natural probability is not uniform.
This natural probability on the search space translates through their idea of lifting to the space of measures $\mathbf{M}(\Omega)$:
As the natural probability on $\Omega$, $\mu$ is not confined simply to $\Omega$ lifts to $\mathbf{M}(\Omega)$, so that its lifting, namely $\overline{\mu}$, becomes the natural probability on $\mathbf{M}(\Omega)$ (this parallels how the uniform probability $\mathbf{U}$, when it is the natural probability on $\Omega$, lifts to the uniform probability $\overline{\mathbf{U}}$ on $\mathbf{M}(\Omega)$, which then becomes the natural probability for this higher-order search space).
As usual, I look at an easy example: a loaded coin which always shows head. So $\Omega=\{H,T\}$ and $\mu=\delta_H$ is the natural measure on $\Omega$. What happens on $\mathbf{M}(\Omega)= \{h\cdot\delta_H + t\cdot\delta_T|0 \le h,t \le 1; h+t=1 \}$? Luckily, $$(\mathbf{M}(\{H,T\}),\mathbf{U}) \cong ([0,1],\lambda).$$ Let's jump the hoops:
  1. The Radon-Nikodym derivative of $\delta_H$ with respect to $\mathbf{U}$ is $f(H) = \frac{d\delta_H}{d\mathbf{U}}(H) = 2$, $f(T) = \frac{d\delta_H}{d\mathbf{U}}(T) = 0$
  2. Let $\theta \in \mathbf{M}(\{H,T\})$, i.e., $\theta= h\delta_H + t\delta_T$. Then$$\overline{f}{(\theta)} = \int_{\Omega} f(x)d\theta(x)$$ $$=f(H)\cdot\theta(\{H\}) + f(T) \cdot\theta(\{T\})$$ $$=2 \cdot h$$
Here, I have the density of my natural measure on $\mathbf{M}(\Omega)$ with regard to $\overline{\mathbf{U}}$, $$d\overline{\delta_H}(h\cdot\delta_H + t\cdot\delta_T) = 2 \cdot h \cdot d\overline{\mathbf{U}}(h\cdot\delta_H + t\cdot\delta_T).$$ But what is it good for? For the uniform probability, DEM showed the identity $$\mathbf{U}=\int_{\mathbf{M}(\Omega)}\theta d\overline{\mathbf{U}} .$$ Unfortunately, for $\int_{\mathbf{M}(\Omega)}\theta d\overline{\delta_H}$, I get nothing similar: $$\int_{\mathbf{M}(\Omega)}\theta d\overline{\delta_H} = \frac{2}{3}\delta_H + \frac{1}{3}\delta_T$$

So, again, what does this mean? Wouldn't the Dirac delta function be a more natural measure on $\mathbf{M}(\Omega)$?

I hope that Dr. Winston Ewert reacts to all of the questions before Google Moderator shuts down for good on June 30, 2015...