Saturday, January 31, 2015

So, who are we to believe?

Who ya gonna believe: some dayem scientist or the Texas Board of Education? OK, that's a bit cheeky; opposition to science extends far beyond the halls of the Texas "school" system, as we see below (which bears passing similarity to the actual article).

Views on evolution among the public and scientists
Whereas nearly all scientists say that humans and other living things have evolved over time, only two thirds of the public agrees, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

Asked which comes closer to their view, "Humans and other living things have evolved over time" or "Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," 98% of scientists responding chose the "evolved-over-time" option and only 2% chose the "since the beginning-of-time" option.

65% of the public respondents chose the "since the beginning-of-time" option, and 31% chose the "evolved-over-time" option. 4% perhaps responded, "huh?". 66% of the public, however, believed scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time.

Digging deeper, those who chose the "evolved-over-time" option were then asked whether they preferred "Humans and other living things have evolved due to natural processes such as natural selection" or "A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today."

90% of scientists preferred the "natural processes" option, and 8% preferred the "supreme being" option.

35% of the public preferred the "natural processes" option, and 24% preferred the "supreme being" option, indicating, perhaps, 59% of the 31% of the public believing in "evolved-over-time" agreed with free choice processes.

Three-quarters (75%) of college graduates believe that humans have evolved over time, compared with 56% of those who ended their formal education with a high school diploma or less. As a religious refugee from Texas decades ago, Guambat is inclined to believe that the number of Texans "educated" by the Texas Board of Education who believe humans evolved is statistically insignificant.
Don't take Guambat's word, though. You can read the summary of the report here.

The summary makes the observation that 79% of adults say that science has made life easier for most people, but only a majority is positive about science’s impact on the quality of health care, food and the environment. 61% say that government investment is essential for scientific progress, while 34% say private investment is enough to ensure scientific progress is made. 

Guambat reckons this 34% correlates somehow with the fact only a majority is positive about science's impact on the quality of life. But Guambat, being no scientist by any stretch of evolution, lacks the tools to test the hypothesis, and is terrified of tests anyway.

As an aside: Texas finally approves history textbooks amid religious and political concerns

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Righting copyrights, in concept at least

Guambat has long lamented the abuse of copyrights, for instance these. At long last, something has caused this subject to rise to the U.S. Supreme Court's attention in a manner to clear the err. Whether a bit, or a start, remains to be seen.

The case, Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Intl, 134 S.Ct. 2347 (2014), can be read here, and an analysis of it here.

A more prosaic article on the situation is this one, which Guambat wishes you would read at the link, because he is an awful case reporter, and because these words are not entirely his own, nor are they reproduced in context (most of the article is left out); and, because you should never, ever take the word of a Guambat:

Business-method and software patents may go through the looking glass after Alice decision
As soon as the court handed down its decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank last June, lower courts and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office began displaying a new, marked hostility toward software and business-method patents. They are now striking down these patents in record numbers and denying applications that would previously have been granted.

"But what may be more interesting is that business-method patents are going down in droves,” says Rochelle C. Dreyfuss, a law professor at New York University and co-director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy.

The court unanimously declared that in order to be deemed patent-eligible subject matter, an invention must pass a two-step inquiry: First, does the invention consist in significant part of a patent-ineligible concept—for example, a law of nature, natural phenomenon or abstract idea? If so, the invention is patent-eligible only if the remaining parts of the invention have an “inventive concept”—one or more elements that ensure a patent on the invention amounts in practice “to significantly more than a patent upon the ineligible concept itself.”

The invention at issue in Alice was a computerized method to perform electronic escrow for online transactions. The court found the patent on this invention claimed the abstract idea of escrow, which was patent-ineligible. The remainder of the invention, performing the escrow on a general purpose computer, was not sufficient to provide an inventive concept.

There still will be plenty of litigation about what constitutes patent-eligible subject matter. “The Supreme Court is trying to take a consistent view on what is patent-eligible subject matter, but the court’s ruling [in Alice] gives little guidance. District courts are left largely to figure this out on their own,” Hoglund says. “A lot more needs to be answered on how to draw the line between eligible and ineligible subject matter.”

All this is bad news for nonpracticing entities, aka “patent trolls.” They often seek to monetize software or business-method patents; and after Alice, many of these patents could well be struck down. “That gives them a lot less leverage to try to get settlements from defendants,” Corbett says.

One of the trolls’ main sources of power is the discrepancy between litigation and settlement costs.
This article appears in the American Bar Association's ABA Journal. Guambat finds it rather rich,then, that the "bad guys" focused upon in the article are "trolls" who "seek to monetize" patents in a bit of a shake-down act, with threats of litigation. What is the appropriate word for a troll's hired gun?