Friday, February 29, 2008

Doggerel #140: "Emotion"

-Professor Farnsworth: "She's become a slave to her emotions! Just like every woman. Especially you, Leela."
-Leela: *SLAP*

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Since woos think logic is incompatible with emotion, many think emotion is a sign of logical shortcomings. While it's true that emotional investment can cloud someone's judgment, it doesn't mean that being emotional automatically negates the logic behind your position.

You can be jealous. You can be irritated. You can be angry and noisy. And if you've got a solid line of evidence and rational arguments, you can also be right. That's what's important in the argument, since we're out to establish the truth. A person's tone of voice does not play a role in that decision.

We are human beings, not computers. We have needs and desires, and when we've got what looks like a good grasp of a problem and its solution (or know the problems in someone else's "solution"), and if it matters to us, we're very capable of being emotional, even if we're being rational every step of the way. Skeptics like me don't like the idea of people being cheated out of money, time, and possibly even life by psychics, alties, and religious fundamentalists. We're rational because we care.

You've All Seen This by Now

What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they'll keep being wrong!

We've all seen and identified with this XKCD comic making the rounds. I'll add a discussion question: What's the most trivial thing you've done this over?

An Image I Need to Use Sometime

That 123 Book Meme

I won't tag anyone, but here's what mine resulted with. Interpret it as you will.

The rules: Pick up the nearest book with over 123 pages. Go to page 123, go to the 5th sentence. Post the following three sentences:

"...And everyone looking so..." Chickenwire floundered "...happy. In a sad way, o' course."

Doggerel #139: "Malpractice"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

This entry into the list isn't so much a word that's misunderstood, but one that's thrown up as a distraction. It will come up in just about any thread where a skeptic talks about quackery, in an effort to cast evidence-based medicine in the worst possible light. There's one severe problem with that, though:

Malpractice and efficacy are not related. A car is an efficacious method of transportation. You can put something in a car and observe it move. If drivers get into accidents, that doesn't change the fact that cars have efficacy. Woos are asking us to invest in flying carpets, which are no better than inaction. That's usually the issue at hand: Can the woos prove that their treatments are better than inaction? Questions about malpractice are usually just evasions of that issue.

Malpractice is the medical equivalent to a car accident. Sometimes it's bad luck, sometimes it's negligence, sometimes it's flaws in the system, sometimes it's even incompetence. Those sorts of things are important to iron out. If you want to talk about malpractice, you'll want to know where and why those problems occur. It has nothing to do with the efficacy of the treatments. The problem is not in the theory, but in the practice.

An additional problem with talking bout malpractice is that it's hard to get numbers with alties: One of the most common problems I see brought up when I read about an altie practitioner being hit with licensing issues is bad or even nonexistent record keeping. That makes it much harder to compare malpractice rates, even if woo worked. But woo doesn't work. Taking useless, and therefore unnecessary action is just as bad as malpractice. And woos are doing it every time they practice if they can't prove efficacy.

Malpractice exists in evidence-based medicine. Doctors, insurance companies, and so forth are doing their best to combat the causes. Woos, however, are seldom interested in really discussing whether or not their treatment actually works. The ones who distract with malpractice numbers effectively admit it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Well, That's Embarrassing

I generally don't know anything about celebrities, nor do I comprehend the level of buzz about them. Well, it seems Sylvia Browne couldn't do much better than I could in regards to predicting what Jennifer Lopez was going to do with her life.

Doggerel #138: "Logic"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Woos often like to pretend that skeptics all have pointy ears, that we're beyond emotion, etcetera. Especially when we see through appeals to emotion and heartfelt, if misguided warnings. Of course, we're people, too. We're just more consistent than most people.

First, one of the woo abuses of the term implies that logic is something incredibly restrictive, and that their favorite woo is beyond it all. This usually gets into silly special pleading pretty quickly, when they claim that results exist, but they can't be measured. How they measured them is left an open question.

Second, woos will often use fallacies of "logical" people to try to convince us that we shouldn't discount stuff. One of these is the famous Sherlock Holmes quote, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." That one in particular, as well as many other lines of 'woo logic' tend to be based on a lack of imagination. Holmes's quote relies on the presumption (and hubris) that you know all the possibilities. Usually, the woos in question don't even know what a skeptic's stance is on the issue, and thus can't attack the real lines of logic and assumptions being used.

Third, woos treat logic as if it were somehow antithetical to emotion. Quite frankly, I don't see how. Emotion seems like a natural extension of logic to me. Heck, it forms a large part of my sense of humor: A lot of jokes rely on the listener being able to spot holes in someone's logic, or reversal of expectations arrived at through logic. That must be why I see so few woos with a sense of humor.

Further Expansion

Haven't been getting a lot of comments over at my Game Development Limbo blog, though I've been given some good reasons from individuals who have some log-in related hurdles. If you're interested in my random game-related thoughts and ideas, send me your email address so that I can invite you.

If you don't want to post it in a comment, you can drop your address in an email to me:

As the Pointless Fun Turns

Well, it time for a little more pointless fun. We've been extended for another infinity seasons, including plastic surgery for my character, who will now be played by a lolcat who appeals to a better demographic. He's also apparently secretly the long lost twin brother of several other people.

Anyway, onto the fun:

Retro Sabotage: Classic games with punchlines. Usual thanks to Nodwick.

Someone's having the time of his life:

This would be a lot better if they kept the sound at a consistent level. Silence ruins a lot of it:

Searching for random Nintendo stuff. This was weird:

81st Skeptics' Circle

It's up at the Conspiracy Factory.

Open thread as usual, except quoting the Evil Overlord List and thus revealing our secrets to the world is FORBIDDEN.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Quackometer's Back!

You can't keep a good thing down. He's changed to an ISP with more spine, so I think he'll be safe from censorship for a while.

Doggerel #137: "Dimension"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

I've read Flatland and Sphereland. I recommend you read them, too, if you've been overly contaminated by the typical sci-fi use of the term. A lot of woos are. I think "dimension" is a poor term for alternate universes, elseworlds, different planes of existence, etcetera. "Dimension" better refers to height, width, depth, time, and the various dimensions those cosmologists are working on. I heard we're up to ten or so. If you want to add some more, show us the math.

In the old days, religion liked to hide heaven in the sky and hell deep underground. Now that we can examine those areas, some woos have resorted to hiding magic in alleged dimensions. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that their woo doesn't do what they claim it does. It only serves to make it look harder to verify, as if science only worked like sci-fi scanning devices and was so easily limited.

Another use of the term is less "scientific" and more illustrative, often dealing with convenient abstractions for complex processes. One example, from my days of playing Magic: The Gathering was "card advantage," which essentially dealt with the benefits of increasing the number of cards working for you at any time: Draw more, prevent your opponent from drawing, kill two enemy cards with one of yours, etcetera. That's one aspect of a complex process. Though I've encountered it less often, sometimes woos like to talk about these sorts of dimensions to make an issue appear more complex when such dimensions can be studied independently of others.

Doggerel #136: "Deep"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Back when I was a kid, my mind was continuously buzzing with religious questions. You know the usual conflicts: Omnipotence versus evil, precognition versus free will, etcetera. Nearly all of them were outright contradictions. People regarded as "deep" just slapped the "paradox" label on them, told stories that failed as metaphor, and just generally didn't answer it. Meanwhile, people like me who kept asking questions, pointing out the cracks in bad metaphors, and preferred uncertainty or even dissatisfaction over false certainty were labeled "shallow." This kind of experience made me wonder if the brainless blond cheerleaders on TV sitcoms grew up to be philosophy professors. Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the standard case.

Needless to say, woos love to think of themselves as "deep" and will advertise. The problem that they commonly face when dealing with skeptics is that they haven't thought about their favorite transcendent woo and the implications it would have if it were true. Sometimes they'll slap on a layer of ad hoc, and then ignore the implications of that layer. For example, psychics will complain that they can't work in the presence of a skeptic, often to the point that they'll claim physical discomfort from our evil, negative thought waves. Well, then, it should be an easy matter to test their ability to sense skeptics. Lock 'em in a room and see if they get a headache when James Randi walks by. At that point, they typically drop the attempt to add "depth" to the woo and start ad hominems.

My preferred method of determining who's really "deep": who's got the most detail down with the fewest fallacies. So far, I'm seeing a very strong correlation between woo and shallowness.

The Days of Our Pointless Fun

Well, I've been leading a double life on another blog (give me your email if you want to see Bronze Dog's Game Development Limbo), been in the witness protection program, since I have to testify it was I who shot Caleb Rentpayer.

So, to keep you occupied:

Eyemaze: Website full of games, including the very cool Grow series. The creator's feeling under the weather right now, so help him get better.

Submachine 5: Interesting point-and-click exploration game. I should probably try out the earlier ones.

Here's some near-lethal nostalgia fuel:

Items on my "Definite buy" list: Fez and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.

The usual thanks go to Nodwick and TIGS.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Teach This Old Dog a New Trick

I suddenly remembered a quote from a math humor book I read back in junior high. It went something like this:

"The laws of probability are so cleverly formatted that no experiment can refute or prove their validity."

It won't surprise me if there's been a lot of debate about this that may have settled the issue centuries ago, but I haven't been able to come up with a way to falsify the laws of probability from my armchair bit of math. Any particular experimental result is possible under the laws of probability: Some are just more probable than others, and there's no magical cutoff for improbability.

If I can't get anywhere with them, I think I might just have to stick them into the same category of assumptions as "the external universe exists" and "the laws of physics are consistent."


Le Canard Noir's blog has been taken down because the cowards at Netcetera. They caved into the threats of some nobody quack, despite being clearly legally protected. The Thought Police and book burners live.

Normally, I'd instinctively focus a lot of rage at the anti-speech actions of the quack involved and how he stands for the destruction of civilized society, but given that the same ISP has caved in for the third time to such threats, they don't deserve any revenue. If they can't offer any protection for your material, they aren't worth the money.

So, if you're expressing unpopular opinions on Netcetera, I highly recommend you find a new service and make a backup of all your stuff before they open up the doors for the internet book burners.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Doggerel #135: "Holistic"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Alties love to claim that their favorite woo "treats the whole person" or similar crap in their advertisements. The most effective criticism I can think of for the typical altie "holistic" treatment: They can't prove that it treats any part of the person.

Of course, moving beyond that obvious angle, alties often don't seem used to explaining how they treat the whole person in a way that real medicine doesn't. Real medicine has to keep track of you. That's why medical records are so important. They have to factor in things like allergies, genetic quirks, and general health to see if you can handle the side effects and such. (Naturally, anything that has an effect pretty much has to have side effects.) I don't see alties doing much on that front. As Eddie Izzard pointed out of chiropractic:

So I had to go see a chiropractor in New York, and they're different to osteopaths, chiropractors, because of the spelling. Of course, they're both very powerful figures on the Scrabble board, though... "Chiropractor... chiropractor... chiropractor... 93 letters, chiropractor." And they crack your bones, that's what they do, they crack your bones! And they take x-rays, but it’s pointless, because whatever is wrong with you… "You've got a bad back, I'm gonna crack your bones.” “You've got diphtheria, I'm gonna crack your bones.” “Your head's come off! I'm gonna crack your bones.” “It looks like your mother! I'm going to crack your bones. "
Put simply, I don't see alties doing much to take the whole person into account. They have a habit of just prescribing standard treatments.

One annoying thing that often comes up is that alties often have good bedside manner, which they'll advertise as treating the 'spirit'. Of course, they often have a lower patient load, and often don't have to do much of anything, so it's often easier for them to maintain. Would be nice if some of these people could have the cobwebs in their heads cleared out so that they could go into nursing and put that bedside manner to better use. Having a friendly relationship to the medical staff can often do good in the form of better treatment compliance and stress reduction, but people with illnesses need real medicine to go with the kind gestures.

Finally Getting to my Deityhood

Well, Tom Foss started a meme. Somewhere, I got tagged invisibly, though I was going to get around to it regardless of whether or not I got tagged. Some of this is going to involve repetition of ideas.

I'm going to have to try having some fun with the whole Bronze Dog God thing.

1. Resources will not be scarce. At least not in the "real" world. The only places I'd make scarce resources are game worlds/boards/servers. The first games to operate on those principles will be praised by the gamer community as an innovative abstract concept that livens up gameplay.

2. Time will be tangled up for maximum convenience. Go ahead and take a nap, go to work, class, get in the proper mood, or whatever. Your friends on the game server won't even notice you went afk. This, however, might lead to some interesting conversations, requiring an extensive system of grammar for all the different verb tenses. I will haven grantek everyone automatic fluency in this grammar before any problems arise.

3. Who needs death? Indefinite lifespans are fine by me. If someone manages to get bored despite everyone putting out lots of entertainment, they can pick out a memory wipe, bliss-out, or whatever. Some people will appreciate having a reformatted newb to train.

4. Not science, SCIENCE! Like Tom, I'd make Hollywood/comic book/videogame super science a possibility. Who needs square cube laws and laws of motion getting in the way of building a giant honking robot to fly over your infinite back yard?

Suggestions for expansion are appreciated.

Email Policy

I haven't been getting much direct email lately, but after reading a post here and there about others giving an expectation of privacy, I should probably outline what you can expect from mine.

1. If it's not related to the usual science/skepticism/atheism thing, I won't post your email unless you want me to.

2. If it's hate mail, it will be posted, dissected, and mocked. I don't get much at this point. This policy may change if I get a sudden influx. This is subject to some upcoming restrictions.

3. I won't post people's real names and locations unless they already use them online at a blog or something. If, for example, I get some invective from a Disco Institute top member with his name, photograph, and address on the Disco Institute website, I won't shy away from calling him by name. If I get an email labeled "Bob Smith" and he signs the email itself with "ScientologyLuvums317" or something that's obviously supposed to be an alias, I won't expose the name.

4. If you provide a link to your blog, don't be the least bit surprised if I end up dissecting and mocking pseudoscience I might find there. Your best defense is to not be silly in your email.

5. I won't out atheists without permission. I live in a chunk of the Bible Belt, and I know how hard things can be for someone not ready to expose that part of their identity. There are a lot of amoral, nihilistic bigots who seemingly live for the purpose of making life hard for atheists. For the people who can safely and comfortably live as an outed atheist in meatspace, kudos. Not all of us have the necessary bravery and/or safe locations.

Blogroll Expansion

I haven't expanded my blogroll in quite a long time. My brother's generally more exploratory than I am, so I may borrow some links from his. If you're a regular reader, drop a link to your place so that I can add it. I probably have a lot of links I need to reciprocate.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bronze Dog's Game Development Limbo

Yesterday, I started a new blog where I spill out the videogame ideas that end up in my head. I don't expect them to go anywhere, but I might as well get them all down, just in case I end up with an actual product that'll catch the eyes of the indie game community. The blog's invite-only right now, since I'd prefer to keep my ideas among some of my gamer friends without getting stolen. If you're interested in seeing my creative efforts, ask me to invite you. Feedback and ideas from others would be greatly appreciated.

The Threat Model of Epistemology

Imagine you're watching television and a car commercial comes on. The screaming used car salesman sputters and twitches as he shows off some of the cars on his lot and their prices. Throw in some costume mascot, and a distant shot of the location, featuring some air-powered flailing critters. And then he mentions that if you don't believe his deals are the best in town, you'll be found eventually and taken to a torture chamber and left there for the rest of your life.

That's an image that comes to my mind with religion. There always seems to be a double standard. If your average person were to make such a horrible threat, everyone (or at least I hope everyone) would be shocked and inspired to retaliate with anything from vitriol to criminal charges. But for some reason, people give (thankfully fictional) deities, (unfortunately real) preachers, and generally pious people free reign to say whatever threats they like. It's even acceptable to make bigoted jokes with the threats as a premise.

What I want to know is why such exceptions exist. I want a fundie to explain it to me. For now, I've got a number of suspected reasons which they probably don't want to admit. First, they think morality is relative: The preachers can do whatever the hell they want to because they serve a deity who can do whatever the hell he wants to. Moral standards don't apply to them because they've drawn a line in the sand, declaring their side 'holy' or 'spiritual' or whatever.

Second, in something of a more specific variant of the first, they think might makes right. Because their deity is super-powered, he can do whatever the hell he wants. It's not like you could realistically rebel. I suppose I should call that 'appeal to futility' or something. Kind of reminds me of a number of strained paladin-breaking either/or decisions: "You can't win, so give up on finding a way to do the right thing."

Third, in another form of moral relativism: The ends justify the means when it's their ends being pursued. Anyone else who uses their means for a different goal is vilified while they praise their own for doing the same. When called out on this attitude, they pretend morality is beyond mortal ken, which is why double-standards are allowed, and fairness is a sin.

That, in a nutshell, is one of the core reasons why appeals to the eternal torments of Hell mean nothing to me. They're nothing but intimidation, and conversely, Heaven is only a bribe, not a reward. Naturally, the other big reason they mean nothing is because I've seen no evidence for them, but that's a topic for another post.

Friday, February 15, 2008

80th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Bug Girl's place, and it was Valentine's.

Open thread as usual, but because Valentine's is over, now, making kissy faces at me is FORBIDDEN! ...unless you're a hot chick.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

All My Pointless Fun

Well, it's been a while. I was knocked out by my evil twin brother and left for dead, only to wake up on a desert island with amnesia. But I'm back now, and I want to know who the father is.

Time for games.

An Untitled Story: Nice platforming adventure. Definitely worth donating to get the full version.

Mine Link: Simple little chain reaction game. Blow up one mine to get as many as you can per level.

The Unfair Platformer: Was I Wanna Be the Guy not enough for you? Try this.

Thanks go to Nodwick, The Independent Gaming Source, and viewers like you.

Now, to videos:

A little more stop motion gaming:

How Neo and friends play ping pong:

And soccer:

Quote of the Time Being #16

From the comments of one of PZ's posts:

"They make Ward Churchill look like Shirley Temple." -- John A. Davidson

[INTERIOR: February 9, 2009, PZ MYERS's secret lair built beneath the sprawling sewer system of Morris, Minnesota. While Western Civilization is reduced to smoldering ruins outside, MYERS sits atop the Cephalod Throne, surveying his squid aquarium. RICHARD DAWKINS stands to one side, near an old-fashioned Victrola and a dress dummy. He is using a curling iron to put ringlets into a blonde wig.]

[ENTER Tori and Dori, the contortionist twins. They are escorting at gunpoint WARD CHURCHILL.]

MYERS: Ah, Dr. Churchill. I suppose you are wondering why I've brought you here.

CHURCHILL: Wondering? Hardly, Dr. Myers. This is precisely the sort of discursive act I would expect from one so thoroughly reified in the rational-materialist hegemony. As I was saying in my recent monograph--

MYERS: Silence! I did not bring you here to hear you speak. Tori and Dori have their weapons trained on you, and should you manage to evade their gunfire, you would still need to traverse the moat of deadly Humboldt squid. I assure you, escape is impossible, and your cooperation is most necessary. Richard, help Dr. Churchill prepare for his performance.

[DAWKINS approaches CHURCHILL with the wig, a large pinafore, and tap shoes, size 11.]

DAWKINS: Dr. Churchill, it would be in your best interest to don this curly wig and pinafore. You really have no choice.

[CHURCHILL looks nervously at the twins, who raise their weapons and prepare to fire at a moment's notice. Reluctantly, he pulls the pinafore over his freshly pressed workshirt and jeans, and places the wig awkwardly on his head. As his humiliation grows, DAWKINS smears rouge on his cheeks.]

MYERS: Music, Richard, please.

[DAWKINS returns to the Victrola, gives the crank a few turns, and places the needle on the record. The unmistakable sound of On the Good Ship Lollipop is heard. MYERS settles imperiously on his throne and begins to relax. A smile plays across his face.]

MYERS: Now, Dr. Churchill. Dance!

Posted by: HP | February 14, 2008 5:37 PM

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Darwin Day '08

Well, it's that time of year: Darwin Day. Though his theory's been updated again and again over the course of a century and a half, making the Origin of Species very outdated, we pay a minor bit of tribute to the guy who gave biology a productive direction to investigate. He wasn't a prophet. Just a guy who put a particular set of 2 and 2 together in a memorable way, opening new lines of inquiry.

After Darwin, life (at least in the strictly biological way) started making sense. Critters could be traced back through their ancestry to a common point. Doing that trackback, we could discover where they took different forks in the road, and so on and so forth. Yet still today, there are people who would tear down that whole thing and replace it with statements like "because I said so" and "the magic man in the sky was in a weird mood that day, we can't possibly ever know what he was thinking" to explain the hows and whys of life.

Darwin and the countless biologists who followed didn't give into such a defeatist attitude. They dared to ask questions and seek answers, regardless of what it did to lesser people's blind pride and hubris. Armed with scientific fact, scientists could work at improving our lives in ways we take for granted today and potentially in ways we can imagine tomorrow. So, celebrate the stone that caused the ever-growing ripple we're riding today.

And remember, happiness is a squishy cephalopod.

So, was I cheesy and inspiring enough, there?

Doggerel #134: "Consciousness"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Woos love to muse about consciousness. Given that we've all got it without a blue print (yet), it's kind of hard for any of us not to on occasion. I suppose one of the easiest ways to define consciousness is the ability to think and to think about your thinking. It takes quite a bit of sophistication for a critter to be able to do that.

Woos, however, seem to want to keep the complexity down. Rather than face the awesome task of cataloging countless neural connections and proportions of chemicals being juggled among those connections, they'd rather just make consciousness its own ineffable thing, rather than a complicated process. Of course, the problem that arises from this is that it involves special pleading: They have to introduce a new entity without any real sort of justification. Unless they can demonstrate something with consciousness without some sophisticated information handling 'hardware', I don't see any reason to think consciousness is separate from the brain.

One of the other reasons woos like to posit a separate consciousness is because it gives them comfort to think of something that can continue to exist. Of course, the universe isn't in the business of pleasing humans. Good luck finding the soul, but you'll have to do all the scientific footwork. Epistemological hedonism isn't a shortcut I'll accept.

Another reason they like to posit a separate consciousness: If you invent something that circumvents the natural world, it can give you the excuse to believe in other stuff that's considered "weird" like psychic powers and such. Of course, most of the latter ends up being much more mundane when examined. Consciousness has the advantage as not being as well understood as slight of hand, cold reading, and the placebo effect. Yet.

Friday, February 01, 2008