Saturday, December 18, 2010 and the Dunning-Kruger effect

For those of you who haven't heard about you should surf on over there and take a look, after reading my blog post of course.  While the site doesn't have much original content, it has more links than a suit of chain mail.  There are hundreds of links in the section on debunked subjects.  The concepts for your debunking toolbox section is smaller but still pretty impressive and worth a look.  The last section of links is resources and communities. There are a number of them in there I was not previously aware of.  So,, not only is it fun to say, there is a lot to link to from there.

A concept I stumbled upon while looking through the overwhelming number of links on the site was something called the Dunning-Kruger effect.  In short, this is a phenomena where incompetent people overestimate their ability and seem unaware of the extent of their ignorance while skilled individuals underestimate their ability, relative to other people.  The upside is that if an individual can acquire some degree of skill in an area, they will become aware of their previous ignorance.  While this information doesn't make the world a better place it does help one to understand how some debates/arguments they have been in ended the way they did.  You have a discussion with someone, in the process you refute all their arguing points, pick apart their reasoning and build up your position through reasoned arguments and information.   After all that, the person walks away, thinking you are an idiot and still clinging to their belief in dowsing, anti-vaccination nonsense or that the moon landing was a hoax for example.  That could well be described as the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.  It's kind of like reading Max Weber writing about bureaucracy, it may not make it any easier to deal with, but at least you understand it better.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Do people really support this?

Sometimes you find yourself far out of step with the mainstream of American thought, or so recent polling data had led me to believe. CBS news released the results of a poll that, they claim, shows that 81% of Americans support the use of full body scanners in airports. Really, are we talking about the same invasive, creepy, perverse scanners that produce those disturbing naked images of people? That's what an overwhelming majority of Americans support? Well, kind of, sort of, not really, if you take a closer look at the polling question CBS news used, you find that they used the term, "X-ray machines," in their question. I think they skewed their results by using X-ray machines instead of scanners. One evokes images of a doctor's office and images of people's skeletons while the other makes people think of Star Trek tricorders and the security screening thing from Total Recall. If they had used different terminology, they probably would have found less support for the TSA's use of invasive technology. If you really wanted to get a different result, ask people if they think the TSA needs to be taking naked pictures of everybody who gets on an airplane. Okay, that would probably bias responses too much in the other direction, but you see the point.

In case you haven't guessed, I don't believe the American public is as supportive of the TSA and their knee-jerk, poorly thought out attempts at airport security as recent polling data would indicate. One serious problem with the TSA is that they are always reacting to the last attempted attack and not preparing for the next one. I guess the flying public should be glad that they were not forced to, "go commando," after the attempted attack by the underwear bomber. I will take an even more cynical stance and say that preventing an attack on an airline is only tangential to the TSA's two main missions. The first is to make people feel safe enough to purchase airline tickets. This is the mission that is tangentially related to preventing attacks. It is also the mission that creates the whole dog and pony show designed to make it look like they are making people more secure. Gee, doesn't everybody feel safer now that they only have 3 ounce liquid bottles with them in their carry on bags? The second mission of the TSA is to make people scared enough to justify their continued existence and their chipping away at people's civil liberties. If these Orwellian nut-jobs continue to have their way, how long before everybody has to fly naked and handcuffed? Maybe the TSA is a repository for government workers with weird fetishes.

What is really annoying is that the full body scanners, or pervert scanners if you like, may not even work. In March, the Department of Homeland Security released an evaluation of their high tech toys. the unclassified version, is a sad document all of 7 pages long. It has a coversheet, a one page preface that is mostly irrelevant and then less that 2 pages of actual content about the audit and it's findings. There is scarcely a mention of the effectiveness of the full body scanners in the report. The lack of any specifics leads one to believe that the findings were not positive. To wrap it all up, full body scanners, they are invasive, creepy and they probably don't even work. Happy flying.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bright objects in the sky, and the digital cameras that capture them

First of all I just want to put up this first picture without too much introduction, I'll just say I took it outside in the wee hours of the morning back in June:

Okay, so what does it look like to you? Is it a picture of an aircraft, a street lamp, or maybe a UFO? Alright, given the amount of information in the photograph, calling the brightly lit object in the frame an Unidentified Flying Object is pretty fair. I don't know how you would be able to identify it from this one picture. Now, to make it more interesting, let's take a look at another picture, taken a few minutes later, with the assistance of a tripod:

Good job astronomy fans, it's a picture of the moon, taken during the partial lunar eclipse on June 26th. I was impressed by how much shaking there was in the picture, taken by my digital camera, of an object that is relatively stationary in the sky. I bring this up not to highlight my poor photography skills, but to illustrate how digital cameras capture images in ways you might not initially expect. I didn't expect my camera to catch such a shaky image of an object that looked stationary in the sky from my vantage point. The idea is that if you think you have caught an orb, a rod or a UFO with your digital camera, the anomaly is more likely to be within the camera and the way it works, than it is to have come from the world at large. Also, you shouldn't underestimate the utility of a decent tripod.  Digital cameras are great, you can take a hundred or more pictures and you don't have to get them developed if you don't want to, quite an improvement over using film like we did back in the twentieth century. Just be aware of how your camera captures images in it's different modes before you get too excited about the weird image you caught on one of your photos. As the great Captain Disillusion might say, "Love with your heart, use your head for everything else."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Moving Halloween

I hope everybody had a happy Halloween. I know I enjoyed the holiday, but living in Utah, there was an annoying aspect to the whole thing. All the little trick or treaters here were sent out on their quest for candy on Saturday, October 30th. This was done on the assumption that somebody might object to anything interesting happening on a Sunday. This is annoying on a number of levels:

First, who made this decision? Was there some public meeting that I missed where there was a town hall style vote that decided to move trick or treating back a day? I think that this was a reactionary decision made behind closed doors without much, if any, public input. Lighten up people, it's only a Sunday.

Second, it creates an environment where one religious denomination is seen to dominate the scene. You don't see holidays that fall on a Saturday rescheduled to accommodate Seventh Day Adventists or Jews, and I don't think anybody asked the Islamic community if they wanted Friday to be immune from the intrusion of holidays. This is Utah, so I don't need to call out the religious majority by name, you know who you are. Unfortunately, there is a significant portion of this state's population that would be very comfortable with the implication that the state is set up to accommodate a single religious denomination.

Third, rescheduling a holiday implies that it is unimportant. While a lot of people might feel alright with Halloween being moved back a day, it is an entirely different matter when a holiday like Independence Day, is moved around to accommodate the whims of a single group of people. Moving the July 4th celebrations to a different day sends the message that the reason for the celebration is not important. Forget the founding fathers, the revolutionary war and all the people who have fought and died to preserve the freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of the United States, some people don't want to be inconvenienced.

One lighthearted observation related to the rescheduling of Halloween. By sending the trick or treaters out on October 30th, the good residents of Utah are sending their children out on Devil's night, happy Devil's night kiddies. Of course, a great number of those children don't get to go door to door, they get shuffled off to a trunk or treat event. Ah yes, trunk or treating, yet one more xenophobic thing further deteriorating what little neighborhood cohesion still exists. Forget going door to door and having at least some interaction with your neighbors, have a specific invited group of people show up in a parking lot and only let their children interact with those people. I know parents have a fear of stranger danger, but it really is an irrational fear. The children are in more danger on the drive to and from the trunk or treat event than they are from any candy they might receive from strangers going trick or treating, old school style. In summary, a once a week event should not trump a once a year event and your neighbors are good people, let the kids go trick or treating.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Watch out, that man is armed with a five and a half inch stick!

Now, normally I am pretty positive when it comes to Great Britain, they have the national health, the Magna Carta and Stonehenge. On the downside, they have more close circuit security cameras than anyone can keep track of. It makes you wonder if some people over there didn't realize that 1984 was a dystopian cautionary tale, not an instruction manual. Now, if just to prove how nutty they have gone in their post-imperial era, some judicial chuckle-head on the other side of the pond has decided that a kubotan is an offensive weapon.

To fill in some of the details, the British actor Darren Day was arrested for drunk driving, as it turned out the key chain he had on him was a metal kubotan. It was a gift he received 14 years ago (good thing they got it when they did, who knows how much carnage he could have caused with the stick if he had it for 15 years). During his trial, (My goodness, they actually have trials for stuff like this over there? They must be bored) two martial arts experts testified that the kubotan was designed, "as a self defense weapon and in a worst case scenario could be used to kill someone."

Those martial arts "experts" are really being over dramatic. In a worst case scenario, most solid items could be used to kill someone. Watch out Brits, next thing you know you may have to register your cricket bats, rolling pins and kitchen cutlery with the authorities. I should probably stop now before I give anti-crime zealots over there more bad ideas. Things are not exactly ideal over in the colonies by any stretch of the imagination. But, I think that somewhere between open carry nuts and police charging someone with possession of a five inch stick, reasonable people can find a more rational place to be. Maybe mandatory boffer carry laws?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Philadelphia Experiment

Alternate title: Brain Dunning and The UFO Hunters Agree!

While aimlessly surfing the web, I stumbled upon not one but two videos about the Philadelphia experiment. I could only take it as a sign. Time to finally put up a new blog post. One was posted by Brian Dunning as part of his new video podcast series, inFact, the other was put up by the History Channel's UFO Hunters. What is most interesting is that both of them agree, the Philadelphia experiment was a hoax. Well, either a hoax or just a delusion. You can watch the two video clips and come to your own conclusion. While it was easy to imbed the inFact video, you will have to follow the link to the History channel video here: UFO Hunters — The Philadelphia Experiment — Videos

It should come as no surprise, I agree with the two videos. Now while the government certainly would have done something like the Philadelphia experiment if it could, the technology was not there during WWII and it is not there today (or is it?). The Philadelphia experiment made for an interesting sci-fi film but it has no basis in reality.