Thursday, December 11, 2014

Confirmed Predictions II

I attempted to increase my epistemic competence. My predictions started out generously at 60% right. Now I can casually assume they're right, so it seems to have worked.

Of course this is privileged information. I could easily have found the data and then pretended to have made the prediction. Indeed the match is uncannily close, given I spent less than a second before coming to a conclusion - and uncanny means literally/prosaically incredible. The idea is to point at what to look for in yourself, rather than for you to believe I did in fact do this. Secondarily, when I say one of my predictions came true, I mean I observe something like this.

It's oft repeated that nicotine has a lethal dose of 50mg. When I first saw this, today, I assumed they had misread the units - surely, that's supposed to be mg/kg? Google gave me the CDC, which I assumed had dropped the /kg, as it uses mg/kg everywhere else, including the immediately following example parenthetical. On being prodded, I looked further down the search results and found this and this, showing the myth is definitely out there in the wild. Because the CDC was inconsistent about units, I predicted that someone had dropped the units, and subsequently been seminal. (And that given that the human dose is rated as exactly the rat dose, it's probably basically a guess, not even informed by clinical case studies.)

Then I followed the link in that latter link.
"Some of these effects resemble typical symptoms of nicotine overdosing, but 1–4 mg of oral nicotine will certainly not evoke the severe adverse effects described, such as clonic seizures and loss of consciousness."
So either the dose was much higher than listed - 3mg/kg, not 3mg - or their chemical supplier screwed up and it wasn't nicotine. (Check date; credit goes to serendipity.) However, Mayer is not saying that those symptoms are unlike nicotine, instead explicitly saying they are like nicotine. (Wikipedia confirms.) It very strongly suggests the dosage unit was typoed.

The person who first dropped the units was Rudolf Kobert, who published in 1906, "in accordance with the severe symptoms evoked in several experimenters by 0.002–0.004 g it is certainly not going to be higher than 0.06 g." Explicitly guesswork.

That said, he was "a renowned pharmacologist" and thus no more likely to make bad guesses in his field than I am. Mayer's cautious lower limit for lethal dose is 1 gram, whereas Kobert said, if we assume the typo theory, that it certainly won't be above 2.5 grams for an average male of 1900. It's all consistent. Getting a mistake consistent doesn't happen by chance.

On the other hand Mayer needs to hang around engineers for a while. Check for small problems before assuming there's a big one. It's cheaper. While he was still helpful, having to steelman everyone gets tiresome after a while. Either learn logic properly or stick to reporting data and leave the interpretation up to an expert. I learned it and there's no reason Mayer couldn't too. In the worst case, the point for Mayer was to shame self-experimentation, not to show anything about nicotine.

Note about unmistakeable evidence - technically we must consider that Kobert didn't in fact observe seizures. All we know is that Kobert reported seizures. Or do we? We must, technically, doubt that we've seen the report. Names get typoed too, etc. Pragmatically, the chance is indistinguishable from zero. Pharmacologists don't think they've seen a seizure when they haven't, and if he'd tried to lie he would have been caught. Finally, that we know we think we've seen the report is not pragmatically like 100%, not even lim approaches 100%, it's plain 100% likely to be true.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tet Offensive and Fourth Generation Warfare

Even though the Vietcong were materially defeated in detail, they won the moral victory, says Robert Greene:

Within a few weeks, in all parts of South Vietnam, the Americans regained the upper hand, retaking control of Saigon and securing their air bases. The sieges at Hue and Khe Sanh took longer, but massive artillery and air bombardments eventually doomed the insurgents, as well as leveling entire sections of Hue.
After what later became know as the Tet Offensive was over, Westmoreland likened it to the Battle of the Bulge, near the end of World war II.  There the Germans had managed to surprise the Allies by staging a bold incursion into eastern France. In the first few days, they had advanced rapidly, creating panic, but once the Allies recovered, they had managed to push the Germans back -- and eventually it became apparent that the battle was the German military's death knell, their last shot. [...] The entire Vietcong infrastructure had been wiped out.
But another viewpoint began to trickle in from home: the drama at the U.S. embassy, the siege of Hue, and the attacks on air bases had kept millions of Americans glued to their television sets. Until then the Vietcong had operated mostly in the countryside, barely visible to the American public. Now, for the first time, they were apparent in major cities, wreaking havoc and destruction. Americans had been told the war was winding down and winnable; these images said otherwise. Suddenly the war's purpose seemed less clear. How could South Vietnam remain stable in the face of this ubiquitous enemy? How could the Americans ever claim a clear victory? There was really no end in sight. 
American opinions polls tracked a sharp turn against the war. Anti-war demonstrations broke out all over the country. President Lyndon Johnson's military advisers, who had been telling him that South Vietnam was coming under control, now confessed that they were no longer so optimistic. In the New Hampshire Democratic primary that March, Johnson was stunned by his defeated by Senator Eugene McCarthy, who had galvanized the growing antiwar sentiment. Shortly thereafter Johnson announced that he would not run for reelection in the upcoming presidential race and that he would slowly disengaged American forces from Vietnam
The Tet Offensive was indeed the turning point in the Vietnam War, but not in the direction that Westmoreland and his staff had foreseen.