The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Around and around

The Latin tag that appears at the top of this Blog is attributed to Julius Caesar, and it means, roughly, "It's easy for men to believe what they want to."

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about this same phenomenon, under the label "Confirmation Bias." Essentially, if you have some results of some kind, or some observations, or something that passes for data, you are exhibiting or can be accused of exhibiting confirmation bias if you choose to interpret that data in a way that supports your pre-existing beliefs. It is my pre-existing belief that although CB certainly takes place, perhaps more often than not, it's the act of a fool to start flinging mud on that basis, since such criticism contains a serious logical flaw.

Consider: New Scientist recently ran a story about how CB might well be the basis of all positive interpretation of results, leading to support for the reality of paranormal phenomena. People, they said in effect, interpret observations as showing the existence of paranormal hooey if they already believe in it.

Well, a reader, somebody with some physics chops (he apparently won a Nobel prize, back in the Seventies,) wrote in, saying, "Oh, yeah! Well, maybe your authors think that because they're applying confirmation bias due to their not believing in paranormal stuff." (Or words to that effect.)

To which anyone, of course, could reply, "Ha! You just think that because you have a a pre-existing belief in the possibility of paranormality!"

To which he could then reply, "Oh, Yeah? Well, what if you ..."

You get the drift. It's all just a bunch of intellectual smack-talking. Yo' mama so credulous, she believe in ghosts! Oh, yeah? Yo' mama got confirmation bias in favor of not believin' in 'em! Oh, yeah? Well, yo' mama ... and around and around we go. It isn't a useful rhetorical device.

My point, if I can be said to have one, is that this isn't the most professional way to conduct intellectual discourse. Something that seems to have gotten lost along the path is that a scientist, even a social scientist or, God help us, a psychologist, should be extremely reticent to claim results or causalities on the basis of anything less than multiple, repeatable experiments. The right thing to say is that, based on the data I collected, there seemed to be nothing happening or, conversely, something happening, or -- much more likely -- nothing conclusive was observed, but I got tenure anyway.

This is how science was done, back in the dark ages when I was supposedly being trained to do it. What's gone wrong with the world?

Gee, Mom ...

"Oh, my, my look at the time - I've got to dress for my bridge club."

"Gee, Mom, isn't that bridge built yet?"

"No, Son, and it won't be until free hands on both sides of the big ditch can push the same button at the same time!"

Firesign Theater, Don't Crush That Dwarf

Although that bridge (you know which bridge I'm talking about) isn't built yet, Fifth Avenue is. It took two years, five hundred and sixty-eight billion dollars, and the lives of twenty-six hundred underpaid Irish laborers, but the project is finally done. Don't you feel better now?

Editorial note: two of the three statistics related to the Fifth Avenue Project cited above are incorrect and the product of a deranged mind. The person responsible has been sacked.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Law school admissions spike

Apple / Google feud heats up. Users of Apple devices to be denied mapping services. Sales of Android based devices balloon. (Ok, I made that last part up.)

Another footnote

So the wretched little hack from the 'burbs long-time Detroit area politician, Thad McCotter, who launched a ludicrous attempt on the Presidency in 2011, has exploded in mid-air, not unlike a North Korean ballistic missile.

Another example of why, despite my frequent displeasure with their antics, I almost always end up concluding that the Democrats remain the lesser of two evils -- or three, if you believe the tea baggers are not really Republicans, something the Republicans apparently would like you to believe.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hard to believe, but ...

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein look back and conclude that -- shock, surprise -- Richard Nixon was scum.

Their thesis, with which I heartily concur, is that Nixon was at war with the country itself, fighting five assorted battles. If you were:
  • Opposed to the war in Vietnam
  • A member of or consumer of a free press
  • A Democrat
  • Concerned about rampant corruption and double-dealing
  • In a category much harder to define: those who resist the revision of history by the intellectually dishonest and personally interested
then you were on his enemies list, whether he knew your name or not. I'm proud to count myself in that number.