Correct call by Belichick derided by amateurs

The New England Patriots lose to the Colts 35-34 on a touchdown with 13 seconds left.   Two minutes earlier, New England has the ball on their own 29, fourth down and two yards to go.  The  coach signals that they go for it.  They come up half a yard short and Peyton Manning is left with over two minutes on the clock with 3 timeouts to finish the game. 
New England’s coach has been widely criticized for taking a gamble on fourth down.   What isn’t properly understood though is that he made the correct percentage play. 
Look at the Colts’ passing defence and one of their key weaknesses as a team is short passing yards.  That is made up for by being more effective preventing long yards and touchdowns, but with the result that an opponent first down is more likely.  They are designed to protect better deep.  That prevents scores but gives up a high number of third and fourth down conversions to opponents.   Prior to missing the fourth down conversion the Patriots had been 7/14 on 3rd down conversions in the game and generated 477 total yards.
The Patriots’ punting results are among the worst in the league, averaging 39.6 yards.  Punt and you definitely turn the ball over, and on those stats you don’t increase your buffer all that much if the run back is significant, and then your are still starring down Peyton Manning with two minutes on the clock and his destiny in his own hands.
Given that the Colts’ offence had scored on the two previous possessions the Patriots defence may have seemed a little rattled. 
Belichick made the right call.  Make the first down and there is a 50-50 chance that is the game right there.  If it doesn’t work there is still a decent chance that the defence would shut Manning down.   The Colts couldn’t settle for a field goal and the Patriots had only allowed 3 rushing touchdowns, a good stat for a goal line stand. 
Against Peyton Manning going at full speed in the final two minutes of the game with his reputation for comebacks, and the momentum shift in the game, I wouldn’t see the odds as good as 50-50 with a punt. 
Of course the chicken move is to punt and put the opponent back 30 yards where the move will be viewed as technically safer, although it ignores the dynamics of the two specific teams and the individuals involved.  Most coaches would probably take the lower percentage play in the comfort of knowing that they would take little criticism. 
There’s nothing conservative about handing Peyton Manning the ball with over two minutes left at midfield. 
It was quite a gutsy move, to make the right percentage play but with the knowledge that there was around a 50-50 chance of being the goat if it didn’t work. 
That’s probably why Belichick is considered one of the better coaches out there.  The job of a coach isn’t to pander, it’s to win. 
Not that I’m a fan of the Patriots, because I’m not.   I do have to respect that call though.  Leadership is about making the right call even if you know some people won’t be happy and people of ordinary capacities will be critical.   If you can’t do that you’re a follower. 
In related news, one of my larger pet peeves in football or hockey or any sport is coaches deciding to lose by making the safe plays.  They get a lead and then make low percentage plays that are perceived as safe and give the opponent the opportunity to go all out on offence.  Too often teams turtle up, creating an enormous shift in momentum to the team that is behind.  What do you do with a three touchdown lead?  Go for a four touchdown lead.  If you have the ball the opponent isn’t doing anything.  Don’t let them get a sniff of confidence.   Do what the warrior Musachi called "holding down the pillow".  Finish it, don’t let up.  Put them back on their heels. 
Also if you play too conservatively with the ball the plays become predictable and easy to stop.
A good example of how not to do things was Green Bay at Vikings.   Brett Favre was in command.  They had an enormous lead.   So what do you do as coach? Apparently you tell the team to stop doing what is working and have your offence only do sissy plays to avoid risking turning the ball over.  That leads to early punts because you don’t get first downs.
When you punt, you are turning the ball over. 
Most first downs are gained by passing.  Take the pass away because you are paranoid about an interception and all of a sudden the other team has the ball a lot because you’re holding on to the ball for 3 plays and punting.
Maybe the punt puts the ball 30 yards deeper but if the team had played normally they would have probably gotten that 30 yards anyways- and then been able to punt anyways if they had to. 
Having a strategy of playing three downs for five yards and punting may look conservative but it objectively makes about as much sense as deliberately throwing interceptions.  Deliberately throwing to the cornerback 50 yards downfield would have about the same results. 
There’s nothing "safe" about losing. 
You’ve got to play by the numbers.

Message continuity problem with Guantanamo prosecutions

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was supposedly in Pakistan at the time of the 2001 attacks.  The importance of this has not been adequately appreciated. 
He appears to have confessed to too much, including other events that he was not likely involved in, which one CIA official described as "white noise" confessions that were to either misdirect interrogators or to stop the torture.  He had to say something to stop it. 
In addition to the various other problems that a false confession may cause, a key problem is with the credibility of the invasion of Afghanistan.  The invasion of a country with no extradition treaty for failure to extradite suspects is something that should in itself make us somewhat uncomfortable as a precedent, although when that country is conniving openly with terrorists in the manner that the Taliban was I can’t say that it was wrong.  It should have been seen as a tougher call though.
In any event, the invasion was at least in part premised on seizing the culprits of the 9/11 attacks.   Part of the "Sheikh"’s confession is that he ignored Bin Laden’s advice and attacked the towers and Pentagon on his own initiative rather than downing planes as directed. 
If the prosecution is successful in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the central premise for the invasion of Afghanistan is wrong, I’m not going to be the only one to connect the dots because the concept is fairly simple. 
Mr. Mohammed’s alleged confessions are already being used in an attempt to overturn a murder conviction in one terrorism trial.  Because those confessions re-write some history including some of the prior official history put forward by the United States, people need to look to the full range of consequences before the matter goes much further.
Mr. Mohammed was apparently involved in at least the sidelines of terrorism for some time.  If that is true it may be better strategy to go after a less glamourous conviction for something that is easier to prove and has the fewest consequences.  If he is convicted, particularly if he is executed, the U.S. is going to be stuck with whatever story line that is the basis for it. 
If he gets to take credit or is forced to take credit for every major terrorist attack he turns himself into Bin Laden and Bin Laden into a muslim Rush Limbough. 
From a legal standpoint any outcome that takes him out of circulation through due process of law is as good as any other.  If he gets life imprisonment for some little known, minor incident it is still game over for him and he doesn’t get to be a martyr, and doesn’t necessarily get to take all the credit for all iniquity in the Arab world. 
Particularly when Afghanistan is teetering it doesn’t look like a good idea to be promoting a line of evidence that undermines the initial invasion.  What do we tell the Afghanistani’s when word gets out? 
"Well, this is awkward.  Turns out we should have been invading some place in Pakistan.  Our bad.  Maybe we should be going now.   Let us know if you need any help with unexploded ordinance."

Statistics vs observations

Statistics can be useful for rules of thumb but they represent the best guess in the absence of complete information.  The actual probability of any specific event happening is either one or zero.
For relatively well behaved systems statistics may be excellent predictors.  A key question though is, how big is that lack of information that the statistic is filling?
The watching of asteroids that are trapped by the gravity of the Sun is a necessary activity as a big one is going to come by sooner or later.  There are over a million asteroids in the solar system over a kilometer in diameter.  Of course most of those are well behaved in fixed orbits and would not be a problem.
It is a good idea though to think outside the box.  Anything in orbit around the Sun is going to be relatively well behaved and the average asteroid that hits the earth will be going around 17 km/s when it hits the atmosphere. 
What about space junk that isn’t well behaved because it hasn’t been in the solar system for 4.5 billion years?  We don’t have any basis for analysing how often that becomes an issue or how bad an issue it becomes and whether it is a problem.  
Galactic speeds are often depicted at around 600 km/s in relation to other galaxies in the universe.   The maximum speed that a solar system object can hit the earth at is 72 km/s, because anything faster would have enough velocity to escape the solar system.   The escape velocity for the Milky Way is estimated at 1000 km/s. 
When we watch for asteroids we do so close to two dimensionally as the solar system is mostly on an elliptic  plane.  Some of the outer objects don’t completely  stick to the elliptic plane but they usually aren’t too far off.  
Something from outside the solar system could come from any direction.   It wouldn’t necessarily have to hit the earth to cause problems.  Disrupting the stable system can shake out objects further out in the solar system and disrupt their regular orbits. 
As for the effect of a direct hit on the planet, an object going 600 km/s has 1,245.67 times the kinetic energy (or in the venacular, the force of impact) as the same object would have at 17 km/s second because kinetic energy is proportionate to the square of the velocity.  
Then  there is the issue of "dark matter".  If there were any dark matter, we ought to be seeing it around because if we don’t then all it is, is an ad hoc hypothesis to save people’s hypotheses.
The dark matter hypothesis is for the most part a hoax to protect fallacious reasoning.  On the other hand, there is more than one fallacy of astro physics that needs to be addressed. 
Before it became manifest that there were other solar systems with planets, many alleged scientists took the position that this must be the only solar system.   The motivations for that belief I think are religious, to try to show that we have some priveleged place in the universe.  In that context with only stars visible until recently there were stars, black holes and other large objects and anything that we couldn’t see was "dark  matter". 
What is this dark matter?  Apart from  the problem with it being invoked to save bad theories, an operation definition is, anything that has mass that is smaller than a star.   Although it is given a mystical, mysterious definition by astro physicists, who have become some kind of new-age religion, if you look at it from the point of view of the operation definition there isn’t anything mysterious about it.
Do we have dark matter in our solar system?  The question is, do we have anything in our solar system that can’t be seen by a standard light telescope from say, Andromeda? 
Well, we don’t have anything mystical that we need to account for in our solar system, no ad hoc theories apart from some kooks that believe in a Planet X somewhere way out beyond Pluto.  Everything is in balance without having to play the mystical dark matter card.
On the operational definition though we do have dark matter.  That is, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto and millions of asteroids, comets, moons, gases and other debris that are difficult to see from afar because they aren’t self illuminating. 
While I strongly doubt that "dark matter" in any sense of the term is 90% of the mass of the universe there is likely a lot of space junk out there that doesn’t light up and it would be a good idea to figure out if any of that is going to be a problem. 

Difficulty with convincing Guantanamo suspects that trial will be fair

Given that the US broke its’ own laws to illegally hold people at Guantanamo to torture and interrogate them, it is going to be hard to get suspects to properly defend themselves.  It would be logical for them not to expect that the trial would be fair.   They may not bother to put up a proper defence if they think that the whole thing is a charade. 
The alleged mastermind of the 2001 attacks was waterboarded 183 times before his interrogators were satisfied with his answers so his new bravado in announcing that he is the mastermind may be just putting a brave face on it.   If he thinks he’s going to be convicted regardless of what he says then defiance is the only thing that he has left to get something out of the situation. 
As with any dubious case, the facts "proved" at the coming trial may prevent prosecution of other parties if others are guilty and that is a consideration.
Further, there is an issue of due process in that the administration should not be announcing confidence about a conviction or similar improper statements.  If the evidence is excluded or there is a like problem and no conviction it hurts the administration’s credibility; on the other hand it also pollutes jury pools and makes it difficult to have a fair trial.   The proper statement to make is that the matter is before the courts and that the decision is for the jury to make whether guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt on admissible evidence. 
Announcing what you expect to be the outcome is also bad from a political standpoint as it makes the proceedings look more like a show trial.
Have the trial in some place like Hawaii or Alaska.  How’s he going to get a fair trial in New York?  Can they find 12 people in New York that are unfamiliar with the attacks and that didn’t breath in any of the dust?

Obama engaging in Bush-league publicity stunts

Two or three times a year following the September 11, 2001 attacks the United States right wing nuts would announce that it had either captured "the" mastermind of the attacks or killed him in an air raid or some such thing. 
Their credibility with the "final" mastermind of the attacks being in custody is thus minimal.  Originally the mastermind was said to be somebody that was in the planes.  Then they killed off "the" mastermind of the attacks several times to boost polls.   For a while they were maintaining that it was Bin Laden himself that organized the attacks.   The right wing liar/nutbars rely on the public having a short memory.   No doubt if they get a conviction and execution they will be putting somebody else on trial for being "the" mastermind of the attacks in another 3-4 years just to see if they can get away with it. 
If he’s admitting now to doing it after years of torture it may be a Patty Hearst brainwashing effect or he may just want to be executed so the torture will stop.  Because of the effects of torture and similarities between the interrogation techniques and cult indoctrination techniques, done over many years, he may not even know what is true anymore and who knows what evidence was led through him. 
Any defence attorney that is any good is going to be parading all of the video footage of statements that the mastermind was already deceased in front of any jury, as well as using that as a basis for extensive disclosure applications. 
The Republicans are being infantile as usual by claiming that bringing somebody that is under maximum security detention into the country will be a security risk.   There isn’t any basis for thinking that the man is James Bond. 
Then there is the move to seize four mosques in the United States for alleged ties to Iran, which even if correct isn’t relevant unless they supply money directly to terrorism and that can be proven.  Considering the billion dollars worth of bad publicity it will get, seizing places of worship and the problems it will cause (remember the Sikh temple in India?), we had better be talking about a hell of a lot of money in issue and a problem big enough that fixing it is going to justify all of the problems it will cause. 
And having the suspects tried in New York?  There’ll be riots of people trying to get the suspects.   Did they get the writers of bad TV movies to come up with this plotline?

Need for science to be treated more like law

There is a need for something like the adversarial legal system in science.  Debunkings can be junk science much like other science. 
In some cases that may be completely unnecessary.  For example, the case in the article cited above where a top virologist was brought in to test the effects of echinacea, or lack thereof, and afterwards there was an issue about whether he had used the right type of echinacea.
There are a variety of issues that need to be looked at with care.   I am highly skeptical of the above article because for years, drug companies have been searching for plants reputed to have medicinal properties that could be reproduced and possibly concentrated and improved, with significant success.  It is notorious that many plants have effects on the human body, some of which result in illegal drugs for example.   The inflexible position that anything that is not developed by a drug company and selling for billions of dollars isn’t doing anything, particularly when it comes from institutions affiliated with big drug companies, that fund their bureaucracies with funding from big drug companies, is suspect.
I think that it can be important to employ a strong advocate of a given scientific proposal to generate studies where they give their very best shot- under adequate supervision. 
A top virologist would be a good supervisor of such a project.  If he doesn’t fully understand what is being alleged he is not the best person to test it though.
In a case like echinacea, force the advocate to commit to a specific course of action.  Ask if there is any particular type or source that is important to be used. Give it your very best shot, but the advocate is stuck with the results. 
Products that have been processed and/or been sitting on store shelves for 6 months may be depleted of their active nutrients and be ineffective, even if there might be some value to fresh or fresher product.
The light, soil, rain and other factors may be important.   Plants don’t grow in a vacuum.    The presence or lack of a key ingredient in soil may determine the medical value of a plant.
Natural remedies tend to originate from a specific area and it would not be surprising if on some occasions the locals citing a specific benefit may be more disposed to get that benefit.  Issues such as race and blood type have to be factored in as these can skew results.
In some types of studies, the source of the pool of study participants has to be looked at carefully.   In cases where a specific illness is treated there may be referrals where self selection is necessary and desirable.  On the other hand there are reportedly a lot of people in the states that go from trials of one thing to trials of another if they can get compensation for that.   In that case, if there is an open self-selection process where the participants select themselves in, say in response to advertising, you have to have a study about the kinds of people that go looking to join trials and how they may skew the process.   If they are too focussed on being helpful they may skew the entire process, including that of those receiving a placebo, towards more positive results to a greater degree.   If a person has been in multiple trials of multiple products, you may get results skewed because you don’t know what unknown variables are in the mix and even if they report other tests you don’t know if they got product or placebo in the other test.   
If a trial is done in a college and the participants are healthy white New England whites, the results may be skewed.  If volunteers are taken at an inner city where people enter trials to get money  you will get certain persons and the results will be skewed.
Synergies and specific protocols need to be looked at. For example with hydrozine sulphate the advocates say that specific protocols have to be followed and if you do not follow the protocols you do not test the hypothesis.   If somebody says a+b+c=d, a finding that a+b+f=z isn’t a refutation and isn’t particularly relevant.
Also distinguish between relieving symptoms and removing a problem.   If echinacea makes a person’s nose feel more clear it doesn’t follow that it kills a virus or helps kill a virus.  
Because the body’s symptoms to invasive illness are largely caused by the body’s reaction to the virus or bacteria, relieving the symptoms may actually impede the body’s attempts to cure itself.  Some natural remedies may be contra-indicated later for precisely that reason.   Relieving symptoms at the expense of long term health is not necessarily  a good idea.
Junk science takes more than one form and it may be possible in many cases to, for example, show that consuming a plant that has been grown in its’ natural environment freshly picked is highly beneficial but that a plant growing in potash fertilizer, dessicated and reduced to powder, put into a container to oxidize and left on the shelf for six months, has little value.   The junk science enters in at the point of production in some cases.  Note that there may be some cases where a product does not lose value when on the shelf and there may be weird cases where for some reason storage time increases potency.  These are questions of fact that cannot be decided for all cases in advance. 
And never forget the fate of ephedrine in the United States where one guy died on TV with a vague connection to ephedrine and 100 people had died worldwide over a ten year period when abusing ephedrine (while this was played up in the same manner as the H1N1 farce, the track record makes ephedrine the safest drug on the planet), and that was used as a basis for banning the drug, the cheapest and most effective decongestant and anti-allergy medication, which has been used safely by most people that aren’t idiots for thousands of years.    This helped clear the way to make money for less effective and more expensive drugs such as the very dangerous Nasonex, which ought to have been banned instead. 
So, contrary to the above article, there was at least one natural remedy that was extremely effective and the FDA and certain politicians in bed with the drug companies banned it and generated a campaign of hysteria.  The standard for natural product safety apparently is that no more than ten people per year can die when using your product contrary to instructions.  I doubt that any unnatural product meets that standard. 
The FDA and its’ Canadian counterpart have been taking on natural remedies.  Considering their coziness with the drug companies and willingness to approve expensive drugs with no proven benefit that are demonstratively harmful, their willingness to ban or restrict natural products that have no known negative effects is suspect. 
The SSRI category of unnatural drugs are all harmful are all associated with either doubling or tripling suicide rates of those who take them.  Those are terrible statistics for antidepressants.    They are now required to advertise that they increase the risk of suicide in childen but this is misleading because there is no evidence that age is connected with result and the results for adults are equally terrible.   Probably the worst is Effexor, which triples suicide rates.  I’ve known a number of people that had used it and the large majority of them had a sharp turn for the worse and became more unstable after they began using it.  Yet, there is no drive by these organizations to remove these harmful products from the market and they have strongly resisted removing harmful unnatural products in the past unless embarrassed by whistle-blowers.
Natural remedies should for the most part be viewed with the same suspicion and tolerance as diet books.  That is what most natural remedies are in a sense- most of them are about eating something.   If the chemicals aren’t unnatural you don’t expect there to be harm even if the hypothesis is wrong.
Some of these ideas will be idiotic and in appropriate cases pursued as scams, probably including the shark cartilage fad.  The line of reasoning suggested on the cover of the book- sharks don’t get cancer so if you eat shark cartilage you won’t get cancer- is so preposterous that I have trouble believing that anybody with the intellect to write a book could actually believe it to be true.   By the same reasoning if you eat pheasant you would be able to fly.