Miscallaneous interesting things recently (and not-so-recently) read:
Chomsky's work with regard to Cambodia has been marred by omissions, dubious statistics, and, in some cases, outright misrepresentations. On top of this, Chomsky continues to deny that he was wrong about Cambodia. He responds to criticisms by misrepresenting his own positions, misrepresenting his critics' positions, and describing his detractors as morally lower than "neo-Nazis and neo-Stalinists".Sharp is so harsh, and so convincing, that I spot-checked some of his quotations from After the Cataclysm, just to check that he wasn't quoting Chomsky unfairly; he's not. (He takes care to point out that most of what Chomsky said would happen, in 1970, did come to pass.) However, as someone married to a statistician, I feel compelled to point out that averaging wrong answers is an excellent idea, if they're wrong but unbiased. [Via Brad DeLong.]
The looming mass extinction of biodiversity in the humid tropics is a major concern for the future, yet most reports of extinctions in these regions are anecdotal or conjectural, with a scarcity of robust, broad-based empirical data. Here we report on local extinctions among a wide range of terrestrial and freshwater taxa from Singapore (540km2) in relation to habitat loss exceeding 95% over 183 years. Substantial rates of documented and inferred extinctions were found, especially for forest specialists, with the greatest proportion of extinct taxa (34--87%) in butterflies, fish, birds and mammals. Observed extinctions were generally fewer, but inferred losses often higher, in vascular plants, phasmids, decapods, amphibians and reptiles (5--80%). Forest reserves comprising only 0.25% of Singapore's area now harbour over 50% of the residual native biodiversity. Extrapolations of the observed and inferred local extinction data, using a calibrated species-area model, imply that the current unprecedented rate of habitat destruction in Southeast Asia will result in the loss of 13--42% of regional populations over the next century, at least half of which will represent global species extinctions.
It has been suggested that racial categorization has a valid role in good medical practice because many medically important genes vary between populations from different regions. But although knowing a patient's ancestry is often extremely useful in diagnosis and treatment, race is both too broad and too narrow a definition of ancestry to be biologically useful.