Sowing Pseudo-Scientific Seeds of Racism

2 August 2018

I have previously expressed great concern about journalists confusing the categorization of a people as H. sapiens with their being human. Bodies Keep Shrinking on this Island, and Scientists Aren't Sure Why, a story in the New York Times, offers yet another illustration of this confusion. Within it, Carl Zimmer writes:

The researchers found that a very small percentage of the villagers' DNA came from Neanderthals or Denisovans. A tiny portion could not be matched to humans, Neanderthals or Denisovans.

But these enigmatic pieces weren’t dramatically different from human DNA, as you’d expect if they had come from Homo floresiensis. Dr. Tucci concluded that the Rampasasa villagers have no Homo floresiensis ancestry.

Note that, once again, Neanderthals and Denisovans are distinguished by a journalist from humans, as are now those of H. floresiensis. No reason is given for classifying any of these people as not human; the journalist has simply inferred that they are not because they have been classified as of a different species; what that classification actually means is utterly unconsidered.

Further, in the article, modern populations are noted to have differing occurrences of presence of DNA from the supposedly inhuman populations — not dramatically inhuman, but supposedly inhuman none-the-less.

Let me make it very plain: Mr Zimmer and the New York Times are offering pseudo-science with racist implications. He probably doesn't intend those implications, but is simply thoughtless. However, his thoughtlessness and that of his editors are inexcusable. And, if he had any conversations with the scientists who conducted these studies, then I'd like to know why the Hell they failed to impress upon him that the taxonomy did not separate people into humans and non-humans. These scientists did not have the prerogative of unscientifically presuming that Mr Zimmer had more intelligence than has been actually demonstrated by the typical journalist.

Under Review

20 July 2018

Although the time-stamp on the reported status of my probability paper remains 12 July (as per the most recent up-date of my previous entry on the status of this paper), that status has been changed to Under Review.

It is possible that the reviewer or reviewers will withdraw.

Again, the great majority of reviews result in rejection of a paper. Revisions are required of the great majority that are not rejected.

That Was Quick

18 June 2018

This after-noon, I discovered that the time-stamp for the reported status of my probability paper had been changed to 17 June, though that status remains Reviewers Assigned. I infer that reviewers had been replaced after about two days.

I do not intend to continue posting an entry here when that time-stamp is changed without a change otherwise in the status.

Up-Date (2018:06/27):

The time-stamp has been changed to 27 June.

Up-Date (2018:07/01):

The time-stamp has been changed to 1 July.

Up-Date (2018:07/10):

The time-stamp has been changed to 10 July.

Up-Date (2018:07/12):

The time-stamp has been changed to 12 July.

Reviewers Assigned Yet Again

15 June 2018

The virtual ink of my previous entry had scarcely dried when the time-stamp for the reported status for my probability paper of Reviewers Assigned was changed from 10 June to 15 June. So the reviewers of 10 June withdrew, and a new set were selected.

(As I wasn't really attending to the time-stamp before 14 June, it may be that it changed once or twice between 30 May and 10 June.)

Reviewers Assigned Redux

14 June 2018

I noticed to-day that, while the reported status of my paper on probability remains Reviewers Assigned, the date for the status has been changed from 30 May to 10 June. As the reported status of this paper at this journal has proved unreliable, and as I found the reports of another journal with another paper to be unreliable, I hesitate to make any inferences. None-the-less, I'd guess that one of two things happened, either that the paper really idled again for about eleven days with no reviewers actually assigned until 10 June, or that reviewers were indeed assigned but withdrew and that new reviewers were assigned on 10 June. In either case, I presume that reviewers are now assigned who were not assigned on 30 May.

Reviewers Assigned

1 June 2018

On 30 May (by a European clock), the status of my probability paper became Reviewers Assigned.

I did not check the status from the time that I submitted the revised version until the after-noon of 1 Jun. As I had said, I was not sanguine about the editors regarding my revisions as sufficient; I thought it most probable that I would quickly receive notice by e.mail that my paper were rejected.

The next possible status would be Under Review.

A majority of papers sent to reviewers are unconditionally rejected. For most of the remainder, acceptance is conditioned upon revisions.

Revision

31 May 2018

On 17 May, I received communication from one of the editors of the journal to which, on 20 February, I had sent my paper on qualitative probability. He apologized for the delay, explaining that it were caused by a set of individually small mistakes. He said that, weeks earlier, the editors had reached a decision to request that I revise and resubmit the paper before it were sent to reviewers. They recognized that the set of axiomata had philosophical significance, but felt that the abstract would not attract their readers and that there were not enough philosophical discussion in the exposition of the paper.

I wasn't sure whether I could rewrite the paper sufficiently to get their acceptance without unbearably compromising the mission of the paper. I spent the better part of two days pondering the matter, then saw a plan of revision that I would be willing to effect and that they might find satisfactory.

The major share of the revision was to the introductory section. I pulled content from elsewhere in the paper and put it in that section, so that readers would know more of whither the paper would go. I added material that I think to be over-explanation, but from the reading of which some readers would probably benefit. Additionally, I made what were plainly major improvements to the paragraph on intervals as such. I made various other changes through-out the article.

I do not know that the editors will find these changes sufficient. I think that a major issue is that I see discussion of the formal structure of reason as philosophy, whereäs plainly some academic philosophers do not. In a revision cover-letter, I noted that the axiomata were explicitly justified in the paper as conforming to principles that hold in formal systems across all major interpretations of probability, with the exception of one principle whose justification were labored, and that were I to explain how each interpretation would justify each principle used as an axiom, then the work would mushroom to the size of a book, and its principal contributions would be swamped.

I resubmitted the article. It was quickly returned with a request that it not be submitted in PDF but in LAΤΕΧ mark-up or as a Microsoft Word .DOC. (That demand was probably an artefact of how all revisions are handled, rather than indicating that the revision were considered to be sufficient for the article to be sent to reviewers.) I had composed and entered the article using LyX, a WYSIWYM editor that uses LAΤΕΧ programs for final rendering (and converting the document to Word format would be a dreadful process because of the formulæ). But I had to modify things so that the publisher's own programs could successfully process my files. I spent a considerable amount of time figuring-out what modifications to make. At one point, I bobbled the process, but was rescued by the JEO assistant effecting a reset so that I could begin anew. I completed the resubmission at 03:50 on 30 May.

I am not sanguine about my revisions being considered sufficient. I have one more philosophy journal in-mind, after which I must consider submitting to a journal of a different sort.

If rejection does not come swiftly, then within a very few days I will return to work on my next paper, which is to combine the logic of preference and the logic of plausibility, each allowing incomplete preörderings, into a general theory of decision making.

Into the Twelfth Week

12 May 2018

The reported status of my probability paper has remained Editor Assigned for more that eleven weeks now. I have sent a message to the Journals Editorial Office, requesting precise information on the actual status of the paper.


Up-Date:

The reply that I received from the Journals Editorial Office was that the editor had my manuscript and I would be informed of a decision after it had been reviewed. I responded that this were not a proper answer, and explained that I would not be so patient as I had been when a Springer journal had been slow and uncommunicative about a previous paper.

If I do not receive a proper answer by Tuesday morning and the reported status remains unchanged, then I will attempt to write directly to the editor. Right now, there seems a substantially greater probability that I will soon inform the journal that my paper is no longer available for their consideration.

Up-Date (2018:05/14):

I received a more informative answer from the Journals Editorial Office early this morning. They reported that the paper were still being evaluated by the editor, and that the search for reviewers had not been begun.

It is disgraceful if the editor truly hasn't completed his own evaluation after the passage of so much time. Editors have many papers at which to look, but still it is the norm for them to have evaluated any given paper within one month. My paper is challenging, but not so challenging as to justify taking more than twice the standard amount of time.

I am trying to decided when to withdraw the paper from their consideration if I have not been told that reviewers are assigned or at least that a search for reviewers is underway. I do not think that there is any constructive use in issuing an ultimatum; that would almost surely result in a quick rejection. So I think that I need simply to decide for myself at what point to contact them and tell them that the paper is no longer available to them.

Into the Eleventh Week

5 May 2018

The status of my paper on probability has remained at Editor Assigned for more than ten weeks. I console myself with two thoughts.

First and foremost is that I have made improvements to the paper during this time, and even recently, so that it will be a better article if-and-when it is published than it would have been had it quickly been accepted.

Second is that, as I have noted elsewhere, the delay suggests that the reviewers for the journal in question take their responsibilities seriously. It would be fairly easy to look through almost any paper and make a few carping demands without really understanding whether the work were any good.

Again, it is possible for a paper to be rejected because reviewers have not been found. And most papers that are reviewed are rejected.

On Cruelty and Weakness

26 April 2018

Everyone first becomes aware of suffering in the form of his or her own hurt. Further, each of us discovers that others have a power over us in an ability to injure us. And, from the very early childhoods of most people, pain was often used by those who also routinely exercised various other powers over them. Thus, many people associate infliction of distress not merely with the exercise of power of a particular sort, but with strength more generally.

However, exactly because dispensation of suffering is associated with strength, those who feel vulnerable or ineffectual have an increased propensity to attempt cruelty, as if cruelty would make them less vulnerable and more effectual. Indeed, an active desire to cause distress almost always comes from a felt sense of weakness.

That's not to say that injurious acts are always motivated by a sense of impotence. Hurtful actions — even hurtful actions that are deliberate actions — are not always characterized either by indifference to injury or by drawing satisfaction from that injury. Sometimes the action may be deliberate yet the agent genuinely unaware of the consequent suffering; in other cases, he or she may regard the hurt as a regrettable cost that none-the-less should be paid (as in a case of a painful medical procedure to prevent or to correct a still greater problem). And I don't assert that acts of cruel indifference almost always come from a sense of weakness; indifference does not proceed from felt need. Rather, I refer to acts driven by a desire to inflict suffering as such (including of course cases in which indifference is feigned).

In the sense that one cannot do what one greatly wishes to do, almost everyone will at times feel weak. Many of us will at one interval or another believe ourselves unable to do something that people normally seem able to do. Further, most or all of us will on various occasions regard the contrary choices of some other person or persons as what prevent us from doing what we very much wish. In this last case, that other person or those other people are perceived to be, at the margin, the source of the sense of weakness, and thus an urge to be cruel (and thereby to feel stronger) is likely to be directed at them. But if such people are in some way out of reach, or if the sense of weakness derives from other circumstances, then some other person — a target of opportunity — may be made the contemplated focus of attempted cruelty with some spurious rationalization.

While a desire to be hurtful almost always comes from a sense of weakness, a sense of weakness doesn't always provoke an urge to be hurtful, nor do people who from weakness feel such impulses always choose to act upon those desires. A person may be crushed beyond any action, or may see no opportunity to lash-out. But another person may reject cruelty that he or she could see within reach. It is possible to recognize a sense of weakness behind one's own desire to be cruel. It is possible to realize that cruelty will not make one any stronger; to see that cruelty is a confession of weakness; and to decide that, if a confession should be made, then there would be better ways to make it than through acts of cruelty. It is sometimes possible even to be conscious of a sense of weakness before it produces an urge to be cruel, and to consider what would be a reasonable response to that sense. The more practice that one has in finding rational alternatives to cruelty, the less one feels the impulse to be cruel even at the outset. To some extent, one can grow beyond that urge.

And, when one encounters cruelty from others, one can look for its source in some sense of weakness on their parts. Perhaps their cruelty will be forgiveable; perhaps it will not; but it will almost always be understandable. And any response to cruelty will be more assuredly appropriate if the motivation for the cruelty is understood.