Tuesday, February 28, 2017


There is a lot of work involved in ranching. A lot of physical labor, a lot of brain sweat. Sometimes it isn't the most fun or the most exciting occupation. Sometimes it can be discouraging and even vexing.

But for me at least, the glue that holds it all together is a deep and abiding love for what I do, for the things I get to experience every day. No two days are ever the same, and even in the most agonizing times there are priceless moments of majestic wonder and awe.

I am blessed.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Baby it's cold outside

It's far from uncommon for me to field questions about how cattle can survive in the cold of winter without living in a barn with central heating. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I get this question mostly during the winter. In the summer I less frequently get rather the opposite question; how can cattle survive the awful heat without living in a barn with air conditioning.

Please don't think I'm poking fun at the questioners. Questions are good, asking about things we don't understand is a wonderful human characteristic.

Occasionally I get the question phrased as a personal attack. "How can you be so mean to those poor, innocent, wonderful, godlike creatures?!?" Those are actually pretty rare though and usually only come up on the koobecaf or other forums for antisocial intercourse.

"Ooh-ooh! He said intercourse!"

Yes I did. I have the heart of an eight year-old boy.

I keep it on my desk in a jar of formaldehyde.

Now quit that! I'm trying to be serious here.

If you read my post yesterday you know that I lost a calf. There's no way to know for certain whether it was an exposure death or some kind of a fatal congenital defect. Regardless, I have a responsibility to try to understand what happened and why, and to do what I can to prevent the same thing happening again. My responsibility is at the same time to the successful operation of the ranch business and to husband the animals in my care. The two are not mutually exclusive.

I also have a responsibility to you readers to explain what I do, why I do it, and how I do it. I'm not always so good at this, but I do try.

Anyway, cattle and cold.

Cattle are mammals, as are humans. Like humans, cattle are endothermic and homeothermic; that is, they regulate their body heat via internal metabolism and have to keep that level of body heat within a pretty narrow range to survive.

In mammals the autonomic nervous system is in charge of maintaining body heat, the process of which is called thremoregulation. To do this the ANS has clever sensors distributed everywhere in the body, measuring all kinds of parameters; temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, blood chemistry, and on and on.

When the body begins to lose heat, the hypothalamus (in charge of the ANS) recognizes the situation by "reading" the body's distributed sensors. It then coordinates a series of neural and hormonal commands which cause the body to do things to compensate for heat loss and to generate more heat.

Neurologically, it causes goosebumps and shivering. Goosebumps don't do much for people, but in most other mammals, who happen to have fur coats, goosebumps actually erect the hair to trap an insulating layer of warm air. Involuntary shivering generates muscle heat to help replace warmth lost to the cold.

At the same time hormonal commands cause enzyme cascades which ramp up cellular metabolism throughout the body. As the cells increase their activity they generate more heat. They also require more nutrients, so other hormonal/enzymatic cascades free up carbohydrates (sugars) and lipids (fats) to stoke the cellular fires.

Now if the body continues to cool, new neural signals are sent out which cause the blood vessels closest to the skin to constrict. This serves to keep warm blood away from the relatively colder surface of the body, and also conserves warmth around the vital organs in the core of the body.

A well nourished mammal can usually strike a balance between heat loss and heat manufacture/retention. Mammals are designed for this and we do it all the time. We can survive and thrive in very cold temperatures.

There can be complications though.

If a human's clothing gets soaked it loses much of it's ability to insulate. The same is true of a mammal's fur coat. Heat is lost that would otherwise be conserved. Add in some wind, and prodigious quantities of heat will be wicked away. This can be a recipe for disaster.

Even when cold and wet though, so long as the body can generate heat a bit faster than it's lost, all can be well in the end. Eventually body heat will dry clothing or fur, and things will return to a livable balance.

But for the body to generate heat, it must have enough stored energy to metabolize.

Mammals can survive remarkable extremes of cold. We humans usually don't have to do this because we have ways of keeping our immediate environment warm; furnaces, car heaters, etc. But lacking these, so long as we're properly nourished, clothed and sheltered from wind and wet we can easily survive extended exposure to sub-zero temperatures.

And that is, in a nutshell, how cattle survive the cold. My job as a rancher is to make sure they are nourished and have a way to shelter from extremes of wind and wet. In those situations where there is too much cold, wind and wet, and not enough nutrition, cattle will die. Fortunately, those situations are rare and cattle are incredibly tough and adapted to living in nature. It's seldom a big problem.
Non-melting snow on these cows proves the efficacy of their hair coat insulation.

Things are a little bit different when it comes to newborn mammals. I'm talking specifically about cattle, but there's really not a lot of difference between newborns of any mammalian species. We're accustomed to human babies being born in hospitals with incubators and fetal monitors and lots of staff rushing around, but there was a time, not so very long ago, when human babies were born at home with only the mother coordinating assistance. And not long before that, home might have been a tent or a cave or a clearing in the forest. The fact that humans survived as a species in the absence of hospital delivery tells us that there is probably something innately survivable about unassisted parturition!

When mammals are born they experience a huge environmental and metabolic change. In the womb thermoregulation is taken care of by the mother's body. Oxygen and nutrition are provided via the placenta and umbilicus, as is waste disposal. Many of the fetus' organs are functioning, such as the heart and circulatory system and brain and nervous system. But many of the organs are dormant, such as the respiratory system and the digestive tract.

At birth the newborn has to begin regulating its own body heat, begin breathing, begin metabolizing stored energy, and begin to take in and digest food to fuel the whole shebang.

When a calf is born in the cold it has to do all of these things pretty quickly.

It's born wet and begins to shed warmth immediately. The calf's autonomic nervous system immediately kicks into high gear. Muscles under the skin erect still-wet hairs (goosebumps) and deeper muscles begin to shiver. Its diaphragm begins to expand and contract, air rushes in and out, oxygen and carbon dioxide begin to be exchanged.

It takes a lot of energy to do these things. The first dose of energy comes from carbohydrates -- blood sugar already present and circulating. But that's a limited source. At the same time the calf's cells are burning glucose, hormonal and enzymatic cascades begin the process of metabolizing adipose tissue. Some of this is white fat, and some is brown fat. In very simple terms, white fat becomes ATP while brown fat is metabolized rather directly into heat. Metabolizing fat is far more complex than that, but it's a good first approximation.

Anyway, just as blood sugar is limited in the neonate, so is the quantity of available adipose tissue. Sooo...

The calf very quickly struggles to its feet, totters toward the udder, and begins to ingest colostrum. This is the first milk that the mother produces and it's loaded with sugar, fat and immune factors.

Once the calf gets dried off and begins digesting and metabolizing a belly full of colostrum it's in good shape. But it only has limited time and internal resources to accomplish this first, vital task.
This calf is fine. He's dry and the crusted snow on his back proves that his hair coat is insulating him from the cold. A human wouldn't like this experience, but it's all part of being a mammal living in the great outdoors.

If the calf doesn't get up and nurse, it will die. And even if it does get up and nurse, if it loses heat faster than it can make heat, it will die.
This calf is not fine. He's wet. His hair coat isn't insulating. He's fixin' to die.

Fortunately, there are things the rancher can do to help. Chief among these are to provide shelter, help the calf dry off, provide supplemental colostrum via a bottle or stomach tube, and if necessary, provide an external source of heat to slow or halt the rate of heat loss.
But he didn't!

Looking back to the calf I lost, he showed me all the signs I've learned to expect of a healthy newborn. He was breathing, shaking his head, and already working on getting to his feet. He should have got up, should have nursed, and should have been fine, just like the heifer who was born at roughly the same time.

I don't know for sure what happened, but if it was a simple matter of needing just a bit of help, I could have provided that. Therefore I should have checked on the little guy at least one more time instead of simply making the assumption.

So there you have it, a little peek at what I do and some of the things I have to consider.

Oh, and by the way...

We've been talking about mammals, which are endothermic/homeothermic. There are also creatures which are ectothermic/poikilothermic, deriving body heat from mostly external sources and having the ability to survive a wide range of body heat. Things like reptiles and amphibians. On a cool summer morning, reptiles, for instance, will slowly and lethargically make their way into the sunlight and bask until their body comes up to a warmer temperature. Once up to temperature their metabolism picks up and they become more active.

But endothems can also benefit from external sources of heat. I can put a chilled calf in the bathtub, for instance, and humans can turn up the furnace.

And on a cold, still day, cattle can stand in the sunshine, aligning themselves so as to expose the maximum body surface to the suns warming rays. Every little bit helps. This also answers the riddle of why my cows were all facing northeast or southwest yesterday morning. They were at it again this morning.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

February calves

First calves hit the ground yesterday. It's always a special time.

We haven't had February calves for a long time. When I were a lad we calved in January and February; that was the common practice at the time. We raised cattle and grew crops, and it made more sense to calve in late winter so you'd have that chore finished with when you needed to be in the field and on the tractor in the spring.

Sometime after I ran away and joined the circus we quit farming, planted crop fields back to grass, and went to an all-cattle operation.

Since there was no longer any spring farming to do, it made sense to calve in April and May, when the weather was nicer.

I'm guessing the last time we had February calves was about 1980.

Anyway, I had to sell all the cows last fall when I was battling a bone infection and couldn't do a proper job of animal husbandry. I got better in January and ordered more cows from Amazon. Well, not exactly from Amazon, but an online auction is pretty close!

These cows were bred to begin calving on March 1 and continue for 70 days. What that really means is that the bulls went in with the cows on June 1 last year and came out 70 days later. Cattle have a nine-month gestation period, so if you do the math you get March 1 for the first calving date.

Nature doesn't care much about humans and their bloody mathematics, though, and it's far from uncommon to have early calves.

So yesterday we had the first two. It was cold but clear and not a bad day for calving, considering the season.

This morning I tagged the first calf, a nice little, petite, red heifer.

I did not tag the second calf, a solid red bull, because he expired sometime in the night. Judging by the lack of rigor mortis and his unfrozen condition, I suspect he died no more than an hour before sunrise.

While I don't know what he died from, and it could have been some kind of fatal internal malformation, it's more likely that he simply fell behind the energy curve and died from the cold. I should have done more overnight monitoring, but I fell into my April calving methods and didn't properly factor overnight temps into my thinking. So the loss is almost certainly on me, and in money terms it was a thousand dollar mistake.

These things happen in ranching. I'm kind of bummed out and cross with myself, but I'll learn from this episode and become just a bit better at my job.

On a slightly happier note, a few days ago Paul asked about the somewhat common lore that cattle always graze while facing north or south. In my experience, cattle tend to graze with their noses pointed at the next bite of food, so they can and will graze pointed in any direction at all.

There are times when they will point in certain directions, and here is one of them. They're all facing either northeast or southwest. Care to guess why this is so?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ahhh, koobecaf

I impulsively posted a meme on the koobecaf last night. I thought it was uproariously funny, because it illustrated how getting a simple fact wrong can utterly kill an argument and make a person look like a real doofus.

It's doubly funny to me because there's simply no way to count all the times I've made a similar mistake. I'm a wold champion doofus! It's part of being human. Sometimes I overlook important details and draw incorrect conclusions. When I do that, other than kicking myself and feeling like a complete boob (that's dood in the mirror, BTW), it's no harm, no foul. Just as long as I'm willing to be wrong, change my conclusions to fit the real version of reality, learn from my error, and drive on.

Anyway, here's the meme. See if you spot the same problem that I spotted.

So anyway, I posted this and got a pretty much immediate response in the form of a lecture about how awesome one political party is when compared to the other. And the lecture made some good points. But it completely missed the belly laugh-inducing irony of the fundamental problem with the meme.

Before we go any farther let's take a page from the Richard Feynman playbook and see if we can spot another problem with the meme. I'll just cut to the chase. This was posted up on the koobecaf, and although the poster I stole it from is identified by their koobecaf handle, they were clearly reposting it to point out the irony. With enough time and effort I might have been able to track down the origin of the meme, but that wouldn't give me anything but a name. I wouldn't know anything about the OP (as the kool kids say), including whether they might be from the other party and trying to make "occupy democrats" look stupid.

So the irony is great, and if you think it through, it helps to point out how very important it is for Americans embrace and live the First Principle.

Just as a refresher, in the very first document published by our infant nation, the founders outlined the basis of our national moral and ethical underpinning.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

So we don't know if the OP was a troll or a person who believes that the meme is an accurate representation of reality. It seems like there are plenty of folks who could fit into both categories. I wouldn't bash the first because I don't know the person or their motives, because I'd be liable -- with my sense of humor -- to take a similar approach, and because the meme is pretty darned useful.

I wouldn't want to bash the second, either. I'd point out the historical inaccuracy, but I wouldn't want to dehumanize them as a "stupid" person from "the other side." If I did that I'd be violating the First Principle, and I'd be a hypocrite as well.

There's a chance that the OP and I would never be able to agree on the topic, but the moment I began to view them as anything other than a full and complete human being, equal in every way to me and equally endowed with unalienable natural rights, well, that's the moment I would become a monster.

None of us are perfect. Each of us misspeaks, makes mistakes, hurts feelings. That's okay though, because each of us do wonderful, selfless things too. It's part of being human. We Americans are incredibly lucky to live in a nation which declared itself via the First Principle on day one. If we don't try very hard to live that principle, we're falling short of our responsibility as sovereign American people.

I love Dakota Meyer's take on this.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Feynman on honesty and integrity in science

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was a Nobel Prize winning physicist. He began his career as a member of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos during WWII. One of his last projects was work on the investigation of the space shuttle Challenger mishap, where he discovered the O-ring problem.
Source for all images.

In his now famous 1974 commencement address at Cal Tech, Feynman introduced the concept of “cargo-cult science,” which today, unfortunately, is coin of the realm in nearly all scientific discourse. Feynman's words, echoing down through 43 years, give us much food for thought as we face a world awash in fake news and abject dishonesty. Here is a practical approach to understanding science and the scientific method, something each of us can do.

Honesty, integrity, and the primacy of falsifiable evidence is the absolute requirement for science. In the absence of any of these, science becomes pseudoscience. Period, dot.

In talking to people about reality, I get the sense that a lot of folks are flummoxed by the ubiquity and sheer mass of half-truths and slanted and spun tales they face on a daily basis. Most -- not all but most -- of the people I talk to have simply given up, hoping against hope that some superior being will do the work for them and present them with the secret to life, the universe and everything. In a short, declarative sentence composed of monosyllabic words.

Well, a person can wait for the supreme being. Or perhaps take a page from Pedro Cerrano's playbook.

Tired of fake news and baloney sheets? Here is some universal truth, as fresh and clean and relevant today as it was in the spring of 1974.

Some remarks on science, pseudoscience, and learning how to not fool yourself.


During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such as that a piece of rhinoceros horn would increase potency.  (Another crazy idea of the Middle Ages is these hats we have on today—which is too loose in my case.)  Then a method was discovered for separating the ideas—which was to try one to see if it worked, and if it didn’t work, to eliminate it.  This method became organized, of course, into science.  And it developed very well, so that we are now in the scientific age.  It is such a scientific age, in fact, that we have difficulty in understanding how­ witch doctors could ever have existed, when nothing that they proposed ever really worked—or very little of it did.

But even today I meet lots of people who sooner or later get me into a conversation about UFO’s, or astrology, or some form of mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and so forth.  And I’ve concluded that it’s not a scientific world.

Most people believe so many wonderful things that I decided to investigate why they did.  And what has been referred to as my curiosity for investigation has landed me in a difficulty where I found so much junk to talk about that I can’t do it in this talk.  I’m overwhelmed.  First I started out by investigating various ideas of mysticism, and mystic experiences.  I went into isolation tanks (they’re dark and quiet and you float in Epsom salts) and got many hours of hallucinations, so I know something about that.  Then I went to Esalen, which is a hotbed of this kind of thought (it’s a wonderful place; you should go visit there). Then I became overwhelmed. I didn’t realize how much there was.

I was sitting, for example, in a hot bath and there’s another guy and a girl in the bath.  He says to the girl, “I’m learning massage and I wonder if I could practice on you?”  She says OK, so she gets up on a table and he starts off on her foot—working on her big toe and pushing it around.  Then he turns to what is apparently his instructor, and says, “I feel a kind of dent.  Is that the pituitary?”  And she says, “No, that’s not the way it feels.” I say, “You’re a hell of a long way from the pituitary, man.”  And they both looked at me—I had blown my cover, you see—and she said, “It’s reflexology.”  So I closed my eyes and appeared to be meditating.

That’s just an example of the kind of things that overwhelm me.  I also looked into extrasensory perception and PSI phenomena, and the latest craze there was Uri Geller, a man who is supposed to be able to bend keys by rubbing them with his finger.  So I went to his hotel room, on his invitation, to see a demonstration of both mind reading and bending keys.  He didn’t do any mind reading that succeeded; nobody can read my mind, I guess.  And my boy held a key and Geller rubbed it, and nothing happened.  Then he told us it works better under water, and so you can picture all of us standing in the bathroom with the water turned on and the key under it, and him rubbing the key with his finger.  Nothing happened.  So I was unable to investigate that phenomenon.

But then I began to think, what else is there that we believe?  (And I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have been to check on them by noticing that nothing really worked.)  So I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate.  There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you’ll see the reading scores keep going down—or hardly going up—in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods.  There’s a witch doctor remedy that doesn’t work.  It ought to be looked into: how do they know that their method should work?  Another example is how to treat criminals.  We obviously have made no progress—lots of theory, but no progress—in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.

Yet these things are said to be scientific.  We study them.  And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience.  A teacher who has some good idea of how to teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it some other way—or is even fooled by the school system into thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one.  Or a parent of bad boys, after disciplining them in one way or another, feels guilty for the rest of her life because she didn’t do “the right thing,” according to the experts.

So we really ought to look into theories that don’t work, and science that isn’t science.

I tried to find a principle for discovering more of these kinds of things, and came up with the following system.  Any time you find yourself in a conversation at a cocktail party—in which you do not feel uncomfortable that the hostess might come around and say, “Why are you fellows talking shop?’’ or that your wife will come around and say, “Why are you flirting again?”—then you can be sure you are talking about something about which nobody knows anything.

Using this method, I discovered a few more topics that I had forgotten—among them the efficacy of various forms of psychotherapy.  So I began to investigate through the library, and so on, and I have so much to tell you that I can’t do it at all.  I will have to limit myself to just a few little things.  I’ll concentrate on the things more people believe in.  Maybe I will give a series of speeches next year on all these subjects.  It will take a long time.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call Cargo Cult Science.  In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people.  During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now.  So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land.  They’re doing everything right.  The form is perfect.  It looks exactly the way it looked before.  But it doesn’t work.  No airplanes land.  So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing.  But it would he just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system.  It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones.  But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in Cargo Cult Science.  That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school—we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation.  It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly.  It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards.  For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.  You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it.  If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.  There is also a more subtle problem.  When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising.  Last night I heard that Wesson Oil doesn’t soak through food.  Well, that’s true.  It’s not dishonest; but the thing I’m talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest, it’s a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level.  The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature.  If operated at another temperature, they all will—including Wesson Oil.  So it’s the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.

We’ve learned from experience that the truth will out.  Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right.  Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory.  And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work.  And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in Cargo Cult Science.

A great deal of their difficulty is, of course, the difficulty of the subject and the inapplicability of the scientific method to the subject.  Nevertheless, it should be remarked that this is not the only difficulty.  That’s why the planes don’t land—but they don’t land.

We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves.  One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right.  It’s a little bit off, because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air.  It’s interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of the electron, after Millikan.  If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bigger than Millikan’s, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

Why didn’t they discover that the new number was higher right away?  It’s a thing that scientists are ashamed of—this history—because it’s apparent that people did things like this: When they got a number that was too high above Millikan’s, they thought something must be wrong—and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong.  When they got a number closer to Millikan’s value they didn’t look so hard.  And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that.  We’ve learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don’t have that kind of a disease.

But this long history of learning how to not fool ourselves—of having utter scientific integrity—is, I’m sorry to say, something that we haven’t specifically included in any particular course that I know of.  We just hope you’ve caught on by osmosis.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.  So you have to be very careful about that.  After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists.  You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that. 

I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I’m not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being.  We’ll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi.  I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, that you ought to do when acting as a scientist.  And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio.  He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of this work were.  “Well,” I said, “there aren’t any.”  He said, “Yes, but then we won’t get support for more research of this kind.”  I think that’s kind of dishonest.  If you’re representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you’re doing—and if they don’t want to support you under those circumstances, then that’s their decision.

One example of the principle is this: If you’ve made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out.  If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good.  We must publish both kinds of result.  For example—let’s take advertising again—suppose some particular cigarette has some particular property, like low nicotine.  It’s published widely by the company that this means it is good for you—they don’t say, for instance, that the tars are a different proportion, or that something else is the matter with the cigarette.  In other words, publication probability depends upon the answer.  That should not be done.

I say that’s also important in giving certain types of government advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice about whether drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it would he better in some other state.  If you don’t publish such a result, it seems to me you’re not giving scientific advice.  You’re being used.  If your answer happens to come out in the direction the government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument in their favor; if it comes out the other way, they don’t publish it at all.  That’s not giving scientific advice.

Other kinds of errors are more characteristic of poor science.  When I was at Cornell.  I often talked to the people in the psychology department.  One of the students told me she wanted to do an experiment that went something like this—I don’t remember it in detail, but it had been found by others that under certain circumstances, X, rats did something, A.  She was curious as to whether, if she changed the circumstances to Y, they would still do, A.  So her proposal was to do the experiment under circumstances Y and see if they still did A.

I explained to her that it was necessary first to repeat in her laboratory the experiment of the other person—to do it under condition X to see if she could also get result A—and then change to Y and see if A changed.  Then she would know that the real difference was the thing she thought she had under control.

She was very delighted with this new idea, and went to her professor.  And his reply was, no, you cannot do that, because the experiment has already been done and you would be wasting time.  This was in about 1935 or so, and it seems to have been the general policy then to not try to repeat psychological experiments, but only to change the conditions and see what happens.

Nowadays there’s a certain danger of the same thing happening, even in the famous field of physics.  I was shocked to hear of an experiment done at the big accelerator at the National Accelerator Laboratory, where a person used deuterium.  In order to compare his heavy hydrogen results to what might happen to light hydrogen he had to use data from someone else’s experiment on light hydrogen, which was done on different apparatus.  When asked he said it was because he couldn’t get time on the program (because there’s so little time and it’s such expensive apparatus) to do the experiment with light hydrogen on this apparatus because there wouldn’t be any new result.  And so the men in charge of programs at NAL are so anxious for new results, in order to get more money to keep the thing going for public relations purposes, they are destroying—possibly—the value of the experiments themselves, which is the whole purpose of the thing.  It is often hard for the experimenters there to complete their work as their scientific integrity demands.

All experiments in psychology are not of this type, however.  For example, there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on—with little clear result.  But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one.  He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was.  He wanted to see if he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from wherever he started them off.  No.  The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.

The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before?  Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors.  So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same.  Still the rats could tell.  Then he thought maybe the rats were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run.  Still the rats could tell.  Then he realized the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any commonsense person.  So he covered the corridor, and, still the rats could tell.

He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it.  And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand.  So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go in the third door.  If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.

Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A‑Number‑l experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat‑running experiments sensible, because it uncovers the clues that the rat is really using—not what you think it’s using.  And that is the experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat‑running.

I looked into the subsequent history of this research.  The subsequent experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young.  They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or being very careful.  They just went right on running rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr. Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn’t discover anything about the rats.  In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats.  But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic of Cargo Cult Science.

Another example is the ESP experiments of Mr. Rhine, and other people.  As various people have made criticisms—and they themselves have made criticisms of their own experiments—they improve the techniques so that the effects are smaller, and smaller, and smaller until they gradually disappear.  All the parapsychologists are looking for some experiment that can be repeated—that you can do again and get the same effect—statistically, even.  They run a million rats—no, it’s people this time—they do a lot of things and get a certain statistical effect.  Next time they try it they don’t get it any more.  And now you find a man saying that it is an irrelevant demand to expect a repeatable experiment.  This is science?

This man also speaks about a new institution, in a talk in which he was resigning as Director of the Institute of Parapsychology.  And, in telling people what to do next, he says that one of the things they have to do is be sure they only train students who have shown their ability to get PSI results to an acceptable extent—not to waste their time on those ambitious and interested students who get only chance results.  It is very dangerous to have such a policy in teaching—to teach students only how to get certain results, rather than how to do an experiment with scientific integrity.

So I wish to you—I have no more time, so I have just one wish for you—the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity.  May you have that freedom.  May I also give you one last bit of advice: Never say that you’ll give a talk unless you know clearly what you’re going to talk about and more or less what you’re going to say.

Instant (pot) Gratification

Arright folks, strap in for a wild ride. I don't know if it's the weather change or the new coffee, but...

Or alternatively, I'm feeling perhaps a bit Billish...

Ya'll know I live close to Colorado, right? Yup, 13.3 miles. And Colorado is the Rocky Mountain High state, right? Ever since they legalized the evil weed it's been my suspicion that folks from surrounding states were flocking to the buzz bodegas and bringing home the adult recreational non-beverages. My thoughts on the subject are more than just a wild guess. BITD, when 18 was the legal age for 3.2 beer in Colorado, enterprising utes from this neck of the woods would visit Peetz or Sterling and return with a six pack or a trunk load of the half-strength holy water. How do I know this? How do you suppose? At any rate, human nature hasn't changed.

And now I have proof. Never you mind how it came into my possession. I've removed the incriminating label and bar code. As always, you can click on the image to enlarge.

I'll have more on this topic later.

Now, where was I? Oh yeah, pot!

Instant Pot that is.

If you haven't yet caught the craze, the Instant Pot is a super-duper pressure cooker. It's engineered to be safe and simple and has manual as well as pre-set controls. Cooking under pressure speeds the process dramatically, so that you can make foods that take from hours to all day in a fraction of the time. It also functions as a rice steamer and a yoghurt maker.

That's right, a yoghurt maker. Which I find pretty cool.

Yoghurt (from the Greek more or less: γιαούρτι or giaoúrti, "thick" or "curd") is an ancient foodstuff, basically milk thickened by heating and then fermented with bacteria. It's similar to, but different than cheese, which is also fermented by bacteria. Cheese is thickened enzymatically, usually with rennet but occasionally with acid such as lemon juice.

Heating milk to 180 degrees for 30 minutes denatures the proteins, causing the milk to thicken completely, whey and all (the whey will separate, given time). Adding rennet to milk causes proteins to clump and separate from the whey. Other than that, yoghurt and cheese are fundamentally different expressions of the same thing.

Now for my breakfast I like to have a fruit smoothie. Usually banana-berry-apple, almond or coconut milk, yoghurt, and a dash of MCT (medium chain triglyceride oil derived from coconut), all whirled up in the blender. Tasty, filling, healthful, and loaded with energy. Good stuff.

However, genuine live-culture yoghurt is expensive as hell out here at the supply tail. So I was excited to give the Instant Pot yoghurt maker a try. And it works!

Basically, you pour a gallon of milk into the pot and press yoghurt. This brings the milk up to the required temp for the required time. It's a little bit tricky, because up here at 5,000 feet you have to monitor the temp and make sure you get it right. Then you cool the milk to 110 degrees, add your bacterial starter culture, press the yoghurt button and set the fermentation time (10 hours in my case), and let it go over night.

You can use a few tablespoons of commercial yoghurt as your starter, so long as it contains live bacteria. Or you can purchase live cultures from the interwebs or from most natural food stores. I buy from the interwebs, for we have no natural food stores locally.

In the morning I set the yoghurt to drain in the refrigerator. You don't have to do this, but I do because I like thick Greek-style yoghurt.

So for the price of a gallon of milk and a bit of time and electricity I can make twice as much yoghurt for far less than half the cost of a pint of the commercial stuff.

And I don't just toss the whey, I chill it and drink it. Bland, but nutritious, and no wastage of the do-re-me.

Now after my post yesterday, you might be curious about the winter storm. As of 1300 local, it's snowing pretty heavily but there's not a lot of wind, so it's not much of a storm. The weather guessers are still hoping for a blizzard, and it might come true.

So far the cows are doing just fine.

As are the bulls.

And I've got chicken stock working in the instant Pot. It'll be chicken corn chowder by supper time.

Life is good.