Thursday, July 31, 2008

Random Discussion

Nearby church sign: "Live Him loud or be quiet!"

Discuss. ;)

Doggerel #160: "We Got More Famous People on Our Side!"

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

Well, this doesn't happen all that often, but my brother and I currently agree PZ messed up on a recent post. Should have put some of his comments in the main post for one. Anyway, for those who don't read the comments, the atheism of a lot of those figures is quite debatable. The underlying problem, though, is a bit more fundamental. A little ego-stroking preaching to the choir on occasion can do a little good in rallying the troops and insert other cliches...

But it doesn't matter how many famous people agree with you. What matters is why they agree with you: Are your arguments sound? Does the evidence support your stance? Does your theory make accurate predictions? If you're supporting a null hypothesis, are your opponents' arguments consistently flawed and/or unsupported by evidence?

Yeah, it fills me with pride when I find out some great guy from the history books had atheistic, scientific, or whatever leanings. Nothing wrong with that. Please whack me with a rolled-up newspaper if I start using that as a premise in an argument, though, because that's not how arguments are won. Yeah, you can bring it up once in a while to make us feel better, but don't do it too often, and don't bother using the same method as a counterattack to a woo/fundie counterpart.

92nd Skeptics' Circle

While I'm rapidly inserting filler I should have been stretching out more evenly, the Skeptics' Circle came up. It's over at Lay Science.

Open thread as usual, except treating this like the Laff-O-Lympics is FORBIDDEN!

Pointless Question #29

A question I've been putting off: Seriously now, what the hell to villains have against dogs?

Pointless Question #28

So, the villain's got your secret identity's girlfriend and your sidekick in a deathtrap, and wants you to choose which to save. Why didn't he just kill them earlier and take over the world while you were wangsting over the whole thing?

Open Question: Poll Crashing

You've probably all seen PZ's new binging on poll crashing, where he directs readers to certain polls, often overwhelming the votes made by presumably regular readers. It's fun.

But I've got some nagging feeling about it. Those sorts of polls are never scientific, so it doesn't really matter. It's also getting word out that there are people who care about issues to click on a contrary opinion... assuming there aren't too many people dropping multiple votes. About the worst I can imagine happening is websites upping the polling mechanism to combat vote tampering or disposing of unscientific polls altogether (which might be good).

But I've still got that nag in my head. Your thoughts?

Pointless Question #27

How the hell to brightly colored ninja sneak around?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Quote of the Time Being #19

Seen at Respectful Insolence:
Jay [Gordon] said,
"How often does one get to get one's ideas tested in an almost 100% hostile environment? Hostility from scientific minds prepared to knock down my arguments and keep them down unless I back them up with critical thinking."
People standing around being 100% approving and supportive is called a fan-fest, or an esteem building exercise.

People standing around yelling "good answer" is called a game show.

People asking you to validate your ideas, cite your sources and explain how the hell you arrived at a conclusion is science. It's often abrasive ...that's how you polish your ideas.
Well said, Tsu Dho Nimh.

"I Forgot I Had a Cell Phone!"

Sometimes in science fiction, writers can't wrap their heads around the stuff they invent. Over on GDL, I'm trying to avoid some pitfalls while I'm still early in writing up the plot for a game. One piece of technology writers seem to forget about for the modern day is the cell phone. Seems to me that if everyone's got easy communication, it'd be easy to send warnings, clear up misunderstandings, and so forth. Kind of ruins some plot seeds, and it gets kind of forced if endangered people keep dropping their phone every time they're kidnapped.

So, since I've been chronically dragging my heels when it comes to cell phone use in the real world, anything noteworthy coming to mind? In the off chance my game gets popular, I don't want millions of geeky emails asking, "In [scene], why didn't Zag just use his cell phone?"

I would have posted this on GDL, but I feel a wider audience would provide better answers.


Skeptico's got an excellent post up: Provenance. Distilled to its essence: Science builds on the foundations built by the past. Woo is founded on air. Sometimes it's old air, but it's still air.

Fundies and Newagers Answer Here

Thought I'd set up a thread I might refer people to. My regulars may also want to send them here with links. The premise I'm making very explicit: There's no significant difference between the typical right wing fundie IDiot chunk and the crystal clutching newage (rhymes with sewage)-retro hippies. I'd like to see the two camps try to prove they're different.

Sure, they've got political leanings, but that doesn't really strike me as significant. There is crossover, since there are a bunch of apologist concern trolls who show up to complain in evolution threads about how we're allegedly doing bad things to the liberal cause by demanding science remain a meritocracy instead of letting the Discovery Institute become the intellectual equivalent of a "welfare queen." On the other end, I doubt there's a shortage of right wing newagers out there. I recall a long time ago someone had described attending a massage class that started dipping into spiritualist woo and Facism, claiming that the fact The State approved of their testing that included their spiritual beliefs, their spiritual beliefs must be true.

But enough about zany combinations. Woo is woo. They both perform the same fallacies over and over. They both demand that we abandon empiricism and the scientific method based on subjective personal feelings, peer pressure, a desire for an inoffensive PC world, or whatever. In short, they don't have any regard for knowledge or truth. Too many seem to think no one should ever have their feelings hurt by anything as trivial as fact.

One alarming tendency that hasn't escaped my notice is that this sort of thing so easily leads to moral relativism. "You're trying to make me feel guilty! That's bad! It interferes with me living up to my selfish, egomaniacal nature! How dare you try to make us feel bad about someone lying for profit!" I have to constantly remind myself that I'm just getting some very nasty samples in order for me to have hope for humanity.

They all ask us to abandon the very visible benefits of the scientific method, as if all the modern life-saving and convenient technologies were going to spring up anyway, without the rigor involved in understanding the principles they use. They're the sort who take everything for granted, and have no appreciation for the blood, sweat, and time it took for our ancestors to raise us up to expect the long, healthy lives we're now capable of enjoying.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cleaning out my DVR

I still had the old Nova show on the Dover trial and the smackdown that it was. I fired it up and watched. After they got past the part where they let all the IDiots ramble, they got to the juicy evidence, both for the duplicity of IDiots and some nice bits for evolution.

What I found aggravating was the IDiots trying to claim the moral high ground, including one of their ranty documents which mentioned "moral relativism." Pot meets kettle, as usual. Also had a part about "Darwin rejecting humans as spiritual and moral beings" and the stuff about us being "just" animals. Here's news for any fundies reading: Moral and "spiritual" behavior is one type of animal behavior. We're animals, we do it, therefore all those traits define moral, civilized beings are types of animal behavior. I don't get what's so hard about that. Animals are a VERY diverse group. It's like fundies are unaware of the fact that some animals form social groups and have instincts and emotions to optimize the group's survival. We're like that. We just happen to be complex enough to think things through a little more.

One thing I've grown to dislike is some of the handling of science's rejection of the supernatural. To me, it's a meaningless word, and should be called out as such. Science works in the testable. "Supernatural" is just a word believers slap on when it gets inconvenient to science to test something. They arbitrarily label something as untestable despite making predictions and call it supernatural. Scientists complain about the alleged untestability and that property gets associated with the supernatural. Then the woos just go ahead and call whatever they like "supernatural" and then whine about the alleged blindspot science has. Lot of unnecessary distraction in there by using the pointless word.

Back on Civ4

I intended to catch up on posting recently so that I could get back to my old habit of having an average of having a post a day. But I think this is a good enough thing for a bit of filler. Some of you may remember a looooong while back I got Civ4. Well, my brother and I found out that our laptops are powerful enough to run it. So we spent a night playing a game after a few bad starts, earlier.

I won a diplomatic victory, pretty much because my brother didn't carefully read what he was voting for. Probably would have won the space race in a few more turns, anyway. My brother spent most of his time conquering his continent, where most of his points came from. Anyway, after having a lot of trouble on my own, I think we're finally getting a hang on the whole thing.

Any other players here who might be interested in doing a big skeptical game, sometime?

Doggerel #159: "Statistics Can Say Anything!"

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

It's often been said that there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics. There's some level of truth in that, but it's not because statistics are inherently dishonest. It's because there's a lot of room for lies of omission. How were the data counted? What definitions were used? An unscrupulous person can take advantage of that, since too many people don't get into the guts of the numbers.

The best defense against being lied to with statistics is curiosity: Ask for the source. And by source, I don't mean some guy on TV or in a lab coat who said so. How did they count? How did they measure? What did they really measure? Though you may need someone to give you a crash course in statistics to know the difference between a one-tailed or two-tailed t-test, or why everyone favors Tukey comparison tests, many people who misunderstand or lie with statistics make more fundamental errors. Sometimes people will broaden or narrow definitions to conveniently include the irrelevant or exclude the critical. Sometimes they'll collect samples in a biased manner, asking only in areas where people are sympathetic, recording large numbers of anecdotes from nonexperts instead of looking for objective numbers, and so on.

I'm sure we're all guilty of keeping the numbers in our heads without references, but we should all resolve to find sources before quoting willy-nilly.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Doggerel #158: "Moral Fiber"

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

This is going to be a more diffuse Doggerel entry, since there's just so much I could go on about. Woos of every stripe love to pretend that morality is magic, like so many of the other things going on in our heads. Fundies like to pretend our "moral fiber" is damaged by seeing things often irrelevant to morality. And they all apparently like to think that people who know something about the world abandon it so easily.

First off, I'd like a straight answer from any woos who end up here: Just what is it about the "supernatural" that allegedly makes the kind of morality you think you believe in different? Fundies, in my experience, inevitably resort to foamy tirades about how I should be selfish and cowardly because some supernatural being will hurt me for not following his random edicts. Woos of other types never get specific, sometimes claiming that love, cooperation, peace, etcetera aren't "transcendental" enough, as if there's some unspecified line between the stuff we know and the "supernatural" where boring old worldly concerns are rendered meaningless for being on the wrong side of that line. It's weird.

Second, I find a lot of fundie rituals and regulations to be downright weird. Kind of like how most (I hope) these days find the death penalty for wearing a blended fabric weird. I don't particularly care how people get their happy. Just be responsible, safe, and do it with someone who can consent. Do what you can to make sure no one gets hurt.

Finally, I see zero connection between learning about the world and being a Nietzsche Wannabe. Just because we don't have all our flights of fancy verified by scientific inquiry doesn't mean that everything good in life is suddenly meaningless. I still stand up for truth, justice, and all that. I don't need fluffy clouds or beer volcanoes to make it all perfect. Just because utopia is impossible doesn't mean the world is only capable of being a dystopia. An imperfect world just means we have to put in some hard work to make it as good as we can.

Doggerel #157: "It's Like the Allegory of the Cave!"

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

I had an art class about projected media a while back with a hack of a teacher. He had entirely too much love for the words "didactic," "tautology," and "irregardless." He also had us do projects that referenced the allegory of the cave. I was never impressed with that little piece of rhetoric. Plato talking about it doesn't make it any better. BS'd my way to an A anyway.

What the typical woo does with the metaphor is essentially an extra-pretentious version of "You need to think outside the box!" The woos love to pretend that their arbitrary, unjustified decisions are like stepping out of the cave to see the sun. They're more like someone who has closed their eyes and imagined something. A person who does science would be a more appropriate example: A cave dweller who saw the sun and the shadow puppets would be able to manipulate the shadows everyone sees. He would be able to make predictions and make them come true. That's what science is. Of course, the metaphor breaks down because with the scientific method, anyone can remove their shackles, not lucky individuals who have only faith and rhetoric.

So, if you're a woo claiming to have broken out of the cave, show us the shadows you can manipulate. Do it reliably and consistently. Science is already doing it right now with my laptop, invisibly sending signals back and forth to manipulate the things I can see directly on screen. This is done in such a reliable manner, I might as well regard those signals as visible, even if I don't have built-in senses for them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weird Search

Regulars probably noticed when I stopped doing a monthly check of all the search terms that led people here. That's mostly because it got repetitive. This one's a new one on me, though:

Kinetic energy of waves that formed the twelve apostles

Wow. Scenario that's coming into mind: Some woo started spouting off energy gibberish in a blend of newage and Christianity. Skeptic asks for the math behind all his empty talk of energy and waves. Woo searches in vain and bumps into my place.

We Are the Alties. You Will Be Assimilated.

Or maybe not. Orac's got a nice long post on the overall situation with quackery these days. Haven't read all of it at this point, but it covers a lot.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Gaming Thread: What's Old and Boring?

I'm still plugging for people who might be interested in reading my Game Development Limbo blog. I can send invites, and it tends to work out easier with Gmail addresses. (Oh, and Dark Jaguar, I sent an email that bounced. Also made a post on an inspiration I got from an old comment of yours there.)

But I digress. Thought I'd leave a public thread for discussing generic videogame stuff. More precisely, what tired old conventions are you getting annoyed with? We've all dealt with reruns of block puzzles, unoriginal soup cans, "lives," and other such things. Here, you can rant about them and propose alternatives. Here's some from me:

The basic "drop a block on a switch" type: You really have to know what you're doing with these. Far too many make it a very simple journey. The alternatives that come to mind: Limited number of blocks for all the switches. Have to get roundabout methods of moving the blocks.

Inexplicable Treasure Chests: I love Zelda, but it feels off to have a treasure chest with a key poof in after solving a puzzle.

Interchangeable Antimatter Keys: Think I'd like to have something more substantial about unlocking doors, like unique keys.

Spikes and Lava: Let's try brainstorming some more original (or at least less overdone) hazards to fall on.

91st Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Sorting Out Science.

Open thread as usual, but mixing up your darks and linens is FORBIDDEN!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

9# !fooW

I just realized it's been a long time since I had a !fooW entry. Not since October last year. Thankfully, I don't need this to diffuse a bad mood, but I feel like doing something for the humor.

So, for those not familiar with the series: Ask me a question in the comments, and chances are you'll get a silly answer.


During Wafergate, there were a LOT of trolls complaining that we don't take on Muslims the way we do Christians. Of course, a lot of us have posted stuff about the silliness of their religion and the barbarism of some individual Muslims.

But I feel like doing something a little more recent, though not much is coming to mind. Any suggestions?

Wafergate: My Distilled Opinion

The moderate Catholics should be pushing for the investigation and excommunication of those who are making death threats over the crackers. They should be doing that before complaining about any perceived rudeness on our part, since death threats are infinitely more serious than political correctness.

Once that's settled, if they don't want us to consider them silly, they should be working on finding evidence that transubstantiation is real, and maybe come up with an explanation for the act that doesn't come across as creepy cannibalism.

As for my side, you can count on me to ban any atheists who make equivalent death threats. That's what this is about, after all: Death threats are wrong. I just find the crackers are a convenient method for flushing out the barbarians who would so easily resort to violence.

It's that simple.

GDL Still Going

Just thought I'd post another mention of my Game Development Limbo blog. Haven't been getting any comments lately, so I'm getting a bit antsy. Had some new stuff posted last night. Might try to keep some pace up for another bout. If you'd like to sign up to read it, send me an email. It's generally easier if you use a Gmail address for that.

Update: Sent an email ping to those of you on the reader list. Bounced off of yours, Dark Jaguar, so you may need to give me a new addy.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Fundamental Point

PZ's place is still brimming with activity. I'm generally peeking at samples, lately, rather than keeping all the way up. One comment I bumped into on a non-cracker thread recently makes a point I used to quite often when I ran into anti-science trolls: How do you know if you're wrong?

One of the consistent problems with woo of any form is that they have never stopped to consider the impact of that question. They rarely put their beliefs to any sort of test. Most of the time I've seen them try, they have ready-made interpretations for failure, often shrug it off as a one-time snafu, and generally disregard the test.

The scientific method is about falsification. If a theory is wrong, experiments or new observations can prove it wrong. Every hypothesis has to meet that criteria: Falsifiability. If we're wrong, we have escape hatches we can use to move towards more accurate hypotheses that explain what the old theory couldn't.

That's where the null hypothesis comes in. Let's say we're dealing with the null hypothesis of "Psychic clairvoyance does not exist." That can be proven wrong with experiment, which is the point of various skeptical challenges. Let's take the card reading example as an experiment. Get a magician who knows all sorts of card tricks, and knows all the ways to cheat. Set up an experiment to negate those tricks. If the psychic succeeds at a statistically significant margin, that's a big point in their favor. If they do it repeatedly under tighter and tighter controls, we can be confident. Of course, psychics don't have a very good success rate at this. That's one reason why you don't see Zener cards very often. Having solid, empirical measurements isn't their bag.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Do Over! Browncoat Edition

Well, it's hard to improve upon a series as solid as Firefly, but given its short but very sweet run, it didn't have much opportunity to jump the shark. This post is likely going to be fairly short, too, since I don't think I can come up with a lot of stuff I'd redo. However, since the show was too good to last, feel free to post what you think would interesting directions for hypothetical episodes to move in.

The Movie: Serenity: My main complaint is that it felt artificial, inflating the crew's importance. Exposing the Reaver origin and spreading the word across the solar system(s) felt kind of like shoving the crew into a typical Hollywood B plot, rather than flow naturally. The characters were handled well enough, and the Operative was a good adversary, but they could have figured out something else to do with them. One angle I think I would have preferred to take would have having him as one of the Hands of Blue going after River, or maybe a rival of some sort for Shepard Book.

And I'm about tapped out already.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sorry to Keep Going on Like This

I'm continuing to find worthwhile stuff in the thread. It seems one possible origin of the phrase "hocus pocus" is a twist on "hoc est corpus" to make fun of the belief in transubstantiation. I think I'll move it up a few ranks on my list of favored synonyms for nonsense.

If Hell Existed, it'd be Frozen Over

Recent events reminded me of a Jack Chick tract that feels strangely spot-on in places, mostly at the beginning. Yes, the same Jack Chick I parodied (with an accidental relevant inaccuracy about Chick). Freaky-deaky, maaaaan.

Of course, Chick should look in the mirror after reading his own strip. He's no better than the wafer worshipers.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Patriotic Explosion Day

As Ozy and Millie phrased it.

I was planning on posting something patriotic, but you know how things have been going over here. I could go on about the wonderful ideals our government is falling far short of these days, but that can get depressing when you compare the ideal with reality. At the least, I'll use this space for a rare strictly political comment thread. And it's WILD, so very little of the comment policy applies.

90th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at the Millenium Project.

Open thread as usual, except posting in stereotypical Australian is FORBIDDEN, mate!