False equivalence and the failure of the media

September 4, 2009

The media, those bunch of tools who claim to report what’s going on the world, pretty much suck.  In their effort to remain “fair and balanced”, they offer even speaking time to groups who are just plain fucking stupid.  For instance, The Bad Astronomer has pointed out that Dateline gave equal time to both the pro-vaccine group and the pro-disease group, even tho the antivaxxers are fucking stupid.

Now, I’m not gonna go and point out how ignorant it is not to vaccinate.  If you’re dumb enough to deny your kids the same life-saving vaccines that you yourself received when you were a kid, go for it.  Darwin says let ’em die.  Odds are they got a bunch of your stupid genes and will end up either propagating your dumbosity or will end up giving whopping cough to my newborn where it can easily be fatal.  No, today I’m going to mention two types of logical fallacies, false dichotomy and false equivalence.

These are actually pretty simple.  A false dichotomy is when you present two sides as being the only possible solutions.  For instance, the moon is either made of green cheese or yellow cheese.  You’ve left no room for any other possibility, such as the moon is made of, you know, rock and regolith.  There aren’t just two sides to anything, there are probably hundreds if not thousands.  Of course, the only side that matters is the one with evidence. The pro-disease group has no evidence whereas vaccines have shit-tons of clinical studies showing efficacy.

False equivalence is when you present two sides as equally likely, such as it is equally likely that the moon is made of rock or that the moon is made of cheese.  Unfortunately, not all points are equally likely to occur.  It is not equally likely that the moon is rock or that the moon is cheese; one of those is clearly way beyond being wrong.  The media, when they try to show balance, create a false equivalence.  It is not equally likely that vaccines work or they don’t work.  Just because there are two sides doesn’t mean that one of them isn’t simply fucking wrong.


Quick update, before anyone accuses me of ad hominem when I refer to pro-disease groups as fucking stupid.  That is NOT an ad hominem.  I’m not saying that they’re wrong because they are fucking stupid, I am saying they are wrong because evidence contradicts their assertions…conclusively.  They continue to believe that vaccines cause autism, despite evidence to the contrary, which is why I say they are fucking stupid.  Order matters people.

Reductio ad absurdum

July 30, 2009

As anyone who reads this blog (both of you!) should know, I’m a huge fan of logic, reasoning and the scientific method; I’m also, shall we say, somewhat against the concepts of religion as they violate logic, reasoning, and the scientific method.  Magic fairy farts out universe and all life as we know it; right, gotcha.

The great thing about logic is that it doesn’t matter what you’re speaking about; logic is applied using patterns of thought, so the idea in question is actually irrelevant.  For example, take post hoc ergo propter hoc; doesn’t matter what I’m examining, it only matters if I’m trying to assign causation based solely on correlation.  The pattern holds regardless of the underlying argument.

Reductio ad absurdum, or a proof by contradiction, actually requires that we examine the actual argument and then, for argument’s stake, treat it as being true.  We take a premises, assume that it is correct, and take it to its logical conclusions to an absurd degree.  If the logical conclusions are simply absurd, we conclude that the premises must also be absurd, thus we assume that the argument is wrong.

Simple example: Cuius est solum eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos, which basically means that if you buy land, you own everything above it and below it, to the heavens above and to hell below.  Let’s follow this to the logical conclusions, shall we?

Let’s assume that the land I own can be represented by a circle (say I’ve got a circular yard).  Then, let’s extend that circle both above and blow my yard, so we would basically be turning the circle into a circular rod (a 3D shape) that extended above and below my yard.  With me so far?

So if I extend that rod way below the surface of my yard, I may hit China.  Does that mean I own that piece of land in China?  What if I took the rod and went way above the surface of my yard?  Well, I’d certainly claim that I owned all of that airspace, plus I may end up hitting another planet or star.  Do I own those pieces of other planets or stars?  What about other peoples’ yards and their rods?  Surely I would intersect with somebody else’s rod, so what then?  Do we have to share that particular intersection?

So, the idea that I own everything above and below my yard is absurd, thus we refute the premises simply because the logical conclusions are ridiculous.

That, in a nutshell, is reductio ad absurdum.

Chiropractors are not doctors

July 29, 2009

(Note: this is the infamous article on chiropractic that got Simon Singh sued. It is being reposted all over the web today by multiple blogs and online magazines.)

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Yeah, that’s about it

May 27, 2009

Of course, they forgot about all the hot chicks we constantly score with.

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

The Migratory Patterns of Flying Elephants

May 27, 2009

Let’s face it: Africa can be hot and resources such as water scarce.  Animals are going to utilize any advantage they have to stay alive.  Flying elephants possess an advantage over lions and tigers and other African wildlife in that they can span great distances over relatively short periods of time, taking them to new sources of food and water with less competition than they would receive further south.  Which of course begs the question: what type of migratory patterns can we be expected to see?

Current research has yielded some very interesting results, namely that flying elephants, or Loxodonta Africana volatilis, is quite the traveller.  Originating in the great plains of Africa, L.A. volatilis has been spotted by locals as far north as Turkey and as far west as the east coast of South America, where it is said to be found enjoying local flora and fauna and found bathing in local lakes and rivers.  However, what we don’t quite understand is what drives L.A. volatilis west or north.  Is it based on pack affiliation, possibly driven by local predators, or is it purely instinctive?

In order to answer questions surrounding migration patterns, it has been suggested that individual animals be tracked by way of GPS devices or other types of technology, but the concern is that the elephants would somehow interfere with the devices, rendering them useless.  Locals could also be asked to identify various members, but to date there has not been a consistent description which would allow researchers to accurately identify specific members of the groups.  Since these elephants fly, footprints are not possible, so traditional tracking methods will also fail.  To date, any attempt to actually observe migratory patterns of L.A. volatilis have failed, resulting in long debates as to how these magnificent creatures actually live and behave, and more often than not resulting in massive disagreements over their migratory patterns, some arguing for northern migration and others for westward movements, while some arguing for both and others for none.  Perhaps this elusive creature will simply remain elusive?

So, if you’re actually still reading this, it means one of a few things.  Either you’re really, really interested in knowing what I have to say, or you’re really interested in knowing whether or not we have a resolution to this scientific endeavor, or you’re insane.  In any case, thanks for sticking with it.

In the above little craziness, one thing never really came up: how do we know that flying elephants exist, let alone what their migratory patterns may be.  The point being, of course, that we’ve made an ontological assumption without supporting evidence: we’ve claimed, albeit somewhat implicitly, that flying elephants exist; further, based upon this ontological assumption, we’ve opted to discuss ways to examine the migratory patterns of a flying elephant.  Ontology argues what exists and what does not exist, and further argues how we can categorize these extant entities.  Ontological arguments, in some vain, can argue that if a noun exists, what it describes also exists.  Beware those pixies!

Epistemology, or how we know what we know, has not been established; how do we know there are flying elephants?  How is this knowledge obtained, how do we know it is true?  We’ve not handled the very basic question as to the existence of flying elephants, so why would we be discussing how they migrate?

This is one of those times when we’ve made false assumptions; religion does this constantly with Yahweh or Allah or Vishnu as their flying elephant.  Why discuss how your god of choice helps you, saves you, wants you to live, etc, without first establishing that the deity even exists?  It’s pointless, it’s arguing on unproven assumptions; your ontological position is flawed.

I recently had a similar issue at work whereby we were discussing ways to improve our program; the problem is that we’ve assumed that we know our users, which hasn’t been demonstrated…at all.  So why should we work on improving the program for the users when we haven’t demonstrated that we understand them?  Our flying elephant is our understanding of our users; we’ve not demonstrated either one of them, so why discuss?

The scientific method relies on empiricism, or the gathering and measuring of evidence; this is the epistemology, or rather this is how we know what we know: because we have evidence.  We only make one real assumption, that we CAN obtain/measure evidence.  It works pretty well actually.

So for us at work, the solution is simply to ask our users some questions so that we can better understand them.  Surveys done properly can yield a lot of information, from which one could infer ways to improve our program.

But instead, we’d rather fight about whether are elephents fly west or north and simply assume that they actually exist.

The Dragon In My Garage

May 27, 2009

by Carl Sagan

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”

Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you.  Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.  There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

“Show me,” you say.  I lead you to my garage.  You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle — but no dragon.

“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.

“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely.  “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”

You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”  And so on.  I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?  Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.  Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.  The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head.  You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me.  The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind.  But then, why am I taking it so seriously?  Maybe I need help.  At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.  Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded.  So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage.  You merely put it on hold.  Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you.  Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative — merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of “not proved.”

Imagine that things had gone otherwise.  The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch.  Your infrared detector reads off-scale.  The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you.  No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons — to say nothing about invisible ones — you must now acknowledge that there’s something here, and that in a preliminary way it’s consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it’s not just me.  Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you’re pretty sure don’t know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages — but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive.  All of us admit we’re disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence.  None of us is a lunatic.  We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on.  I’d rather it not be true, I tell you.  But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren’t myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported.  But they’re never made when a skeptic is looking.  An alternative explanation presents itself.  On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked.  Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath.  But again, other possibilities exist.  We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons.  Such “evidence” — no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it — is far from compelling.  Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

Attack of the WATBs!

May 4, 2009

Well, first I get a book whore on my site trying to peddle her bullshit, then I get another wanker telling me all about how diet cured his symptoms!


Seriously, these idiots come to my blog and cite anecdotes over evidence, then get all pissy when I just, you know, ask for the evidence. AHAHAHAHAHA!!! I CAN HAZ EVUDENSE NAO? KTHXBAI!

One of the great things of having the education to understand research is knowing when I’m being bullshitted. This whole diet-fixes-AS fad is absolute bullshit; the only “study” ever produced has been refuted by way of subsequent studies (with proper controls) not reproducing the original results. This is very simple logic; argumentum ad nauseam, or the concept has been discussed over and over and over and over again. Until there is a study showing even a correlation between diet and the alleviation of AS symptoms, I’m not buying.

Oh, and if a study DOES show correlation, it’s still not proof; cum hoc ergo propter hoc, or correlation does not equal causation. The causes of AS are still not understood; there is a strong CORRELATION between autoimmune conditions and the presence of the HLA-B27 antigen, but there is no CAUSATION. Of all of the people on the planet with HLA-B27, 1.8% of them will develop AS. Google Venn Diagram if you still don’t get it.

So all you whiny little babies, kindly fuck off. Come back with evidence or go the fuck away. I don’t want testimonials; what I would like to see is a nice little study with proper controls so that we can see who followed the diet and DIDN’T feel better. Oh, and I’d like to see the definitions of “feeling better”.

If I just wanted to base a cure on feeling better, morphine would be the universal prescription.

HD Advance – an update

April 22, 2009

I’ve been having a blast lately with the HD Advance software for PS2; it’s pretty easy to use, just loaded up a 160GB Maxtor drive in the PS2 and booted the HD Advance disc into server mode.  From there, I used the HD_DUMB program to send ISO files over to the PS2 via the network.  Now one problem: the network speed is always less than 1Mbps.  Anyone out there have any idea why this would be the case?  The LAN is 1Gbps, the cable/switch test just fine, and all other devices are unaffected.  I can’t seem to find too much information on the intertoobs about this.  Oh, and does anyone know how to change the IP used by HD Advance?  I don’t use a scheme but rather I use multiple subnets of the kind.

Oh, and Guitar Hero Metallica rocks, even better when run from the hard disk.

Christians are funny people

April 22, 2009

A while back, the Institute of Creation Research (ICR) petitioned Texas to obtain a certificate of authority; basically, they want Texas to okay the ICR to issue Master of Science degrees. That’s right folks, science degrees from people who believe the earth is about 6K years old and that all animals at one time were within walking distance of Noah’s house. Yeah…those guys.

Suffice to say, Texas shot this down unanimously; you can’t get a science degree if you’re not doing science. Seriously, pick up a copy of the Christian Science Monitor and enjoy the lulz. You won’t find methods or data, just a bunch of utter tripe. So it makes sense that if you don’t do science, you can’t give out science degrees.

But not so fast! These are the poor persecuted (76% majority) Christians! Why, it’s that evil, dogmatic institution of scientists keeping them down! So the only logical response is to SUE! Yeah, they’re going to sue to get their little pretty sticker on their “degrees” in science.

But fucking A, it gets better! The complaint was apparently written by an ICR member by the name of James Johnson, who apparently is not a lawyer (at least not a good one).

Andrew, a Harvard graduate attorney, has performed an epic take down of their nonsensical complaint. It’s beautiful beyond words.


Epicurean Paradox

April 14, 2009

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I’d drop something in for the hell of it. This is the Epicurean Paradox, which is a form of modus tollens logic. The fact that you can simply state the question shows that the premise is false.

If God is willing to prevent evil but not able to, he’s not omnipotent. If he’s able but not willing, then he’s malevolent. If he is both able and willing, whence cometh evil? If he is neither able nor willing, then why call him God?