Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's the difference, really?

It seems the US has let its bigotry seep through once again, in refusing to sign a UN resolution against it:

According to some of the declaration's backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of race; on the federal level, blacks are not allowed to serve in the military.

Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States -- despite its unwillingness to sign -- condemned any human rights violations related to race.

EDIT: After copying this, I noticed that there may have been a couple of transcription errors in the quote. I apologize for any factual errors, but I do not apologize for the overall message, which remains unchanged.

Hat tip to Ed Brayton for bringing this to my attention.

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Six random things

*is stirred from sleep by a metallic canine*


1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them. (let's pretend this one doesn't exist, okay?)
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

In any case, here we are:

1. I haven't stopped reading skeptical blogs, I just don't have time to post anymore.

2. The reason I haven't had time to post is that I'm deep into graduate school, studying astrophysics.

3. To keep sane in what spare time I have, I mostly occupy myself with video games.

4. I do still get ideas for posts every once in a while, but I'm never able to get myself to sit at the computer long enough to write them without being dragged into work I still have to do.

5. I have a book open to where I need it for work next to me at this moment, and my work in another window.

6. Okay, something that doesn't have to do with work... I got a new girlfriend a bit over a month ago.

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reverse Censorship, Reborn

With the death of George Carlin, I've decided to come out of pseudo-blogging-retirement to honor him in the only way appropriate: By declaring a week of Reverse Censorship. For this week, I will consider the use of any letter profane. They must instead be replaced by the following alternatives: (The list has been changed a bit in honor of George.)

A as "The Asshole-letter"
B as "The Bitch-letter"
C as "The Cunt/Cocksucker-letter"
D as "The Damn-letter"
E as "The Epidermis-letter"
F as "The Fuck-letter"
G as "The God-letter"
H as "The Hell-letter"
I as "The IDiot-letter"
J as "The Jesus-letter"
K as "The Knockers-letter"
L as "The Lesbian-letter"
M as "The Motherfucker-letter"
N as "The Nigger-letter"
O as "The Orgasm-letter"
P as "The Piss-letter"
Q as "The Queer-letter"
R as "The Retard-letter"
S as "The Shit-letter"
T as "The Tits-letter"
U as "The Unclefucker-letter"
V as "The Vagina-letter"
W as "The Whore-letter"
X as "The XXX-letter"
Y as "The Yarbles-letter"
Z as "The Zuffle-letter"

Proceed with your information binge...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Poll Crashing, Astro-Style

It appears that the poll of the day over at GameFAQs is "Do you believe humans actually landed on the moon?" PZed seems to have a lot of fun with poll crashing, but I suspect that if he landed on this one, he'd ask people to choose the "I don't believe the moon actually exists" option just to mess with Phil. I won't tell you guys what to vote for, though. you know what to do.

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Lessons in quote-mining #1

Lesson #1: Don't quote-mine the person you're trying to convince

You may remember Dana Ullman, noted homeopath who doesn't know the difference between this page and this page, and who thinks magic water can cure cancer. Well, he's now taken the stupid to another level.

Right at the moment, an arbitration case is going on at Wikipedia looking specifically at his behavior (arbitration is Wikipedia's equivalent of the Supreme Court), and also surrounding issues related to Homeopathy. To put it metaphorically, Dana's in a hole. Now, everyone knows that the first thing you're supposed to do when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. However, Dana's a homeopath, and he believes that like cures like. So he keeps digging himself deeper. (He did consider briefly diluting the digging process, but he reminded himself that dilution was only to remove side-effects. It's the succussion (shaking) that does all the work, so he mixes in beating himself in the head with his shovel.)

To break from the metaphor, what a smart person would do when they find themself in this position would be to refrain from any possibly argumentative behavior and compose themself as well as possible. Not Dana. He keeps up arguing all over the place, causing just the same problem. You know, in case the other evidence against him gets stale. I could dig into a lot of it, but I'll stick the one most idiotic example. In this, Dana quote-mines the very person he's arguing with, and then argues that his quote-mined version is correct and this person is wrong about what he means.

The idiocy in question takes place at the talk page for Potassium dichromate. You can read through the linked section yourself to get the full picture, but allow me to sum events up. On this page, one editor, Scientizzle, made the following comment:

I am not as against the inclusion of homeopathy information as others here...Assuming the case for this being a remedy of note is solid, I support a simple inclusion that directs the reader to List of homeopathic preparations, which is an appropriate place to deal with the topic. (Even at List of homeopathic preparations, I can't see the published state of the research--i.e., Frass et al, & nothing else--meriting more than a minimalist "it's use has been investigated to treat COPD symptoms.[ref]" statement). — Scientizzle 22:48, 21 April 2008 (UTC)

Later on, Dana tries to use this to justify including a mention on the current article:

Scientizzle, no, not at all. Did you see your words: "I am not as against the inclusion of homeopathy information as others here...Assuming the case for this being a remedy of note is solid, I support a simple inclusion that directs the reader to List of homeopathic preparations, which is an appropriate place to deal with the topic.... I can't see the published state of the research--i.e., Frass et al, & nothing else--meriting more than a minimalist "it's use has been investigated to treat COPD symptoms. " [30] It is interesting how you chose to not give the entire quote from your posting at that same time. You clearly say that you're NOT against inclusion...this strongly suggests that the conversation is open. I hope that you will stop stonewalling. You did recommend providing reference to this study in at least a minimalistic way. Therefore, I continue to assert that the archiving of the active conversation is part of a bullying behavior conducted without consensus, in a WP:TE manner with the audacity to inaccurately blame me for TE. DanaUllmanTalk 05:38, 27 April 2008 (UTC)

Note the ellipsis in Dana's quote. Now go back to what Scientizzle actually said (section that was cut out now bolded):

I am not as against the inclusion of homeopathy information as others here...Assuming the case for this being a remedy of note is solid, I support a simple inclusion that directs the reader to List of homeopathic preparations, which is an appropriate place to deal with the topic. (Even at List of homeopathic preparations, I can't see the published state of the research--i.e., Frass et al, & nothing else--meriting more than a minimalist "it's use has been investigated to treat COPD symptoms.[ref]" statement).

Note how the section that Dana cut out completely changes the meaning (which is exactly what you want to do when quote-mining). The problem, however, was that he was quote-mining the very person he was arguing with. Of course Scientizzle knew that wasn't what he meant, and he could easily point out this quote-mine. How the hell did Dana expect this to convince him of anything?

Let me spell this out: Quote-mining is a dishonest tactic that makes you look bad when it's discovered. When you quote-mine the person you're arguing with, you're not only guaranteeing you'll be found out, but you're also ensuring that you'll not only look dishonest, but stupid too. That, in a nutshell, is Dana Ullman.

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Maybe they're just stupid

A lot of skeptics have written about how intelligent people can be tricked into believing incredibly stupid things. But I think that sometimes, we get so caught up in listing the human fallacies in thinking that lead to such conclusions that we fail Occam's Razor: Maybe these people are just stupid.

Bringing this to mind is the recent event you've all surely heard of by now: PZ Myers was expelled from Expelled, while Richard Dawkins wasn't. There's no way around that one. It was simply a stupid move.

However, a few other examples you probably haven't heard of, coming from my dealing with homeopaths over at Wikipedia:

First, there are my interactions with Dana Ullman, prominent homeopath. There are many things I can point to, but I'll limit it to one instance completely divorced from homeopathy. In this portion of a conversation, I try to explain to him how to link to a specific edit made on Wikipedia, and he's completely unable to see how this is different from linking to a section of a page. The conversation on Wikipedia is a bit disjointed, but you can see it here and here. Piecing together the relevant portions of the conversation (with some formatting changes):

...For future reference, when discussing particular actions, what's most useful to others here is pointing them to the record of the specific edit which was made (the "diff"). In this case, it's at http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Wanderer57/Problem_with_Homeopathy_Discussions&diff=194939851&oldid=194900463. I generally get these by going to either the modification history of the article or the user's contributions, and then clicking on "last" of the line of the applicable edit and copy that address. The advantage to this method is that it goes directly to the relevant message and you also don't have to worry about forgeries, deletions, or archiving. --Infophile (Talk) (Contribs) 00:39, 10 March 2008 (UTC)

I got your response. Thanx...but didn't I do just what you have suggested in the original posting that I made at Randy's user-page to which I linked in my Incident report. I am relatively new to wiki and am trying to be as collaborative as possible. Even though you and I don't usually agree, I hope that we can move beyond our own POV to create good NPOV stuff. DanaUllmanTalk 00:44, 10 March 2008 (UTC)

The difference is that you're linking to the sections in which the comment is made. When these are large, it can be harder to find the relevant comment. Try comparing the link you used with the link I showed you above. You see how the one I used shows his comment directly?

Also, be careful about exaggerating. On the admin's noticeboard, you claimed that Randy was wishing death, though I see none of this here. Though if he did do this someplace else, I (and some admins as well) would be interested in seeing it. --Infophile (Talk) (Contribs) 00:50, 10 March 2008 (UTC)

(I posted this at my user-page, but to make your life easier, here it is) I assume that you somehow didn't read what Randy wrote: "You are a monster who sells nonsense to the sick, and the sooner you die the sooner the world will be a better place. Randy Blackamoor (talk) 00:23, 9 March 2008 (UTC)

Is being called a "monster" and wishing me to die soon any type of civility? Do you still think that this is civil and that it warrants a simple week's penalty, while many anti-homeopathy editors are seeking to ban Whig primarily because he has a good backbone for defending a minority viewpoint. DanaUllmanTalk 01:10, 10 March 2008 (UTC)

Witness how in his last comment, Dana doesn't make any further reference to how to use Diffs, and demonstrates that he still doesn't get it by failing to use one where it would be appropriate. Maybe he's just stupid.

And for a final example, I present to you a homeopath who doesn't understand what it means to be banned: Dr. Jhingadé. There's just no way to sum up the distilled stupid of this "doctor." I'd recommend you simply read the following sections of the talk pages: "Placebo? Quackery!!", "Read this Dr. Jhingadé", and finally, proving that even Dana Ullman thinks he's an idiot: "Hmm..."

If there's a lesson to take here, it's that not all woos are simply deluded by fallacies. Some are simply idiots.

Proceed with your information binge...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Even when ghosts exist, psychics are still useless

Sometimes you find a good dose of skepticism in the oddest places. Take today's Order of the Stick comic. (Spoiler warning if you intend to read it, which is why I'm not copying the image here.)

Proceed with your information binge...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Skeptic's Guide to Wikipedia (Part 1)

Why Wikipedia Matters

Imagine, if you will, a Mr. Joe Blow. Joe's your typical guy, unversed in the complexities of medicine, who one day finds an odd rash on his neck. He shows it to a couple of colleagues at work. One of them recommends he goes in to have a dermatologist look at it. The other, however, argues that that would be a waste of money. It would be a lot cheaper for Joe to go to the alternative medicine portion of his local pharmacy. There are plenty of things there that could cure a rash like that. Maybe some Homeopathy would be all he really needs.

Now, Joe hasn't heard much about Homeopathy before, and he's getting conflicting messages from his colleagues on whether it's worth trying. So, when he gets home from work, he logs onto the internet and runs a quick Google search for Homeopathy. The first search result is from "Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Well, that sounds good, so Joe goes to read Wikipedia's article on Homeopathy. He starts by just reading the first paragraph:

Homeopathy (also homœopathy or homoeopathy; from the Greek ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar" + πάθος, páthos, "suffering" or "disease") is a form of alternative medicine first defined by Samuel Hahnemann in the 18th century.[1] Homeopathic practitioners contend that remedies for diseases can be created by ingesting substances that can produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of the disease. According to homeopaths, serial dilution, with shaking between each dilution, removes any negative effects of the remedy while the qualities of the substance are retained by the diluent (water, sugar, or alcohol). The end product is often so diluted that it is indistinguishable from pure water, sugar or alcohol by laboratory tests but is still claimed to have an effect on consumers.[2][3][4] Practitioners select treatments according to a patient consultation that explores the physical and psychological state of the patient, both of which are considered important to selecting the remedy.

Now, what Joe takes from this paragraph depends a lot on his previous biases and knowledge. He might zero in on the part which says that homeopathic remedies generally are nothing but diluted water, and if there is anything left, it would just harm him. Or, he might focus on how it's been used since the 18th century and is argued to be able to cure his ailment. Or maybe he'll note from the last sentence that if he really wants it to work, he should be visiting a professional homeopath rather than simply picking something out from the drug store.

Each person will be different here. Many will only read the lead section, a few will read the whole article, while others might skip down to sections that interest them to read about it. But the net result is that Wikipedia is the primary source of information for many people in the current age of the internet.

Homeopaths realize this. So do Chiropractors, Creationists, Scientologists, and people who think Waterboarding isn't torture (or at least don't want others to think it is). You can see their incentive to go in and edit Wikipedia to be more favorable to their viewpoints, so that people who read these articles will come out with a positive view of their subject, and maybe then they'll go see a Homeopath to treat their ailments.

On the other hand, the pro-reality viewpoint doesn't have quite the same incentive to edit there. There's no direct benefit to us like there is for the anti-reality types. All we have to go on is the general incentive for why we do this: To help others avoid wasting their money or risking their lives. All of our reasons for blogging on skeptical topics apply also to Wikipedia. It's just one more place to reach an audience who's seeking information.

But most don't bother. In a conversation on Wikipedia recently, one notable skeptic described editing Wikipedia as seeming like "a long run for a short slide." Personally, I disagree. If we put as much effort into improving Wikipedia's articles as we did into blogging, I think it would have just as much, if not more, impact. The other problem he raised was that it just seemed futile. Well, maybe alone it is. That's why I'm making this post, so that perhaps as a group, we can make a difference.

So, I'm now encouraging all of you to start editing Wikipedia in order to bring its articles more in line with reality. I plan to make further posts on this subject, time permitting, in order to give you all a brief primer on Wikipedia editing and some brief tips that I've gleaned from experience. If you'd prefer to just jump in right away, though, then go here to start off, then register an account and get to work.

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, February 01, 2008

My job in a nutshell

Any Unix-using programmer should get a kick out of the latest xkcd comic. Now if I can just find the butterfly key on my keyboard, I'm set...

Proceed with your information binge...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Have you read this thing you say is inerrant?

Right now on the Colbert Report is some nutjob who claims that every word of the Bible is inerrant. Okay, let's put aside all the provable contradictions in it for the moment. Here's the problem I'm seeing: This guy has a Van Dyke (which is what most people call a goatee). The Bible makes it clear in Leviticus 19:27 that you aren't to mar your beard at all. I can see stretching this to make it okay to shave it all off, but something like a Van Dyke is clean out. This leaves two possibilities: This man hasn't really read the Bible closely, or he doesn't really believe it should be taken literally (I lump in being willing to reinterpret it in this category). Personally, I'm betting on the former, but I could be wrong here.

Proceed with your information binge...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Streisand Effect Redux

When will people learn? Trying to censor information on the internet has the opposite effect. First it was the Society of Homeopaths, now it's some nutjob named Dr. Joseph Chikelue Obi (who's done less work to actually earn a doctorate than your average undergrad). Well, you asked for it. Below the fold are copies of both of Le Canard Noir's censored posts.

Right Royal College of Pompous Quackery - Dublin, Thursday, September 28, 2006

I had to share this with you. Following on from my recent Quack Word 'Doctor' blog, I came across the Royal College of Alternative Medicine (RCAM) , a Dublin based - well, I'm not sure quite what it is...

What caught my eye was just the shameless aggrandisement of the site. It is quite hilarious, if not a little repetitive at times. Calling yourself 'Doctor' is somewhat pompous when all you have done is paid for some international postage. However, the man behind RCAM has absolutely no shame and titles himself as the:

Distinguished Provost of RCAM (Royal College of Alternative Medicine) Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi FRCAM(Dublin) FRIPH(UK) FACAM(USA) MICR(UK)

Wow! Probably, just Joe to his mates. Naturally, when you Google the qualification FRCAM(Dublin), there is only person who appears to revel in this achievement. I'll leave the rest as an excercise for the reader.

The distinguished provost looks like he is just another pseudoscientific nutritionist, his spin being "Nutritional Immunomodulation". This is obviously a lot more clever than Patrick Holfords mere 'Optimum Nutrition', but having only one 'omnipill' is probably a poorer commercial decision that Patrick's vast range of supplements.

Obviously, Professor Obi has had a few problems with what probably amount to bewildering comments about his site as the legal threats and press releases concerning his 'ethical' responses to criticisms cover more space than anything else. 'Ethical' is a favourite word on the site.

The most recent press release states,

7th September 2006 : The Distinguished RCAM Provost, Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi FRCAM(Dublin) FRIPH(UK) FACAM(USA) MICR(UK) has formally accepted appointment as Chief Professorial Examiner for the Doctor of Science (DSc) programme in Evidence Based, Alternative Medicine (EBAM) of a highly respected International University in one of the British Commonwealth Protectorates.

This new qualification is primarily aimed at Medical Graduates, Physicians, Surgeons, Pharmacists, Dentists, Osteopaths, Chiropractors, Opticians, Wellness Consultants, Herbalists, Acupuncturists, Naturopaths , Healers, Podiatrists , Chiropodists , Scientists , Healers ,Therapists, Homeopaths, Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Nurses wishing to ethically upgrade their current Qualifications in Alternative Medicine over an exceedingly intensive 12 - 36 month period of study.

British Commonwealth Protectorates? Could that be Dublin?

I really have no idea what this organisation is all about. But it looks like it could be getting quite big soon...

RCAM currently has International Vacancies for One Million (1,000,000) 'Foundation Fellows' ('Movers and Shakers') ; who will independently play a highly pivotal role in diligently mentoring (and regulating) it's future Global Membership.

So if you really think that you seriously have what it takes to become a 'Leader' in Alternative Medicine , then (perhaps) RCAM may definitely be exactly what the Doctor ordered for you.

One million. That's a lot of quacks! And they are just to mentor (and regulate) the wider quack membership! This man has ambition.

The Big J really hates real doctors. This is his most recent press release...

RCAM would like to warmly commend the various Chieftans of the National Health Service of the United Kingdom for ethically and appropriately ignoring utterly misguided calls (from a rather amusing Group of thirteen Clinical Yestermen) to compel Hard-Working (and Tax-Paying) British Citizens to additionally pay for Life Enhancing Alternative Medicine Interventions out of their very own pockets - rather than get such treatments free via the NHS. RCAM would like to also categorically state that such exceedingly flawed 'G-13′ demands that the National Health Service of the United Kingdom expediently abandon Alternative Medicine altogether (in total favour of Conventional Medicine) be diplomatically treated with the very utmost contempt which such unguarded verbal flippance duly deserves ; as none of these 13 'Eminent UK Scientists' behind such calls has professionally attained Globally Acceptable Fellowship Qualifications in Alternative Medicine and as such cannot be deemed competent enough to make such sweeping 'Shilly-Shally' statements about the noble independent specialty of Alternative Medicine.

RCAM therefore publicly advises the General Public to lawfully go about their normal Wellness-Seeking Behaviour as usual - without any unwarranted prejudice or fear resulting from such highly self-serving, morally unethical , abjectly crude , totally unprofessional, utterly unstatesmanly, morbidly barbaric, wantonly uncivilized, profanely undemocratic and unspeakably sacrilegious perpetual affronts on the therapeutically formidable institution of Alternative Medicine.

Now, I do not have 'Globally Acceptable Fellowship Qualifications' in Santa Clause Studies to know he does not exist. But hey. I must be a morbidly barbaric and profanely undemocratic, unethical duck.

So, struggling around the acres of pomposity I find one place where Prof Joe might be making some money. You can call him to seek his wisdom, after pre-booking an hour's slot (and handing over your credit card) for a mere 300 Euros. Alternatively, you can pay by the minute on the contact line for a trifling $10 per minute.

Its going to cost you $20 just for Joe to say Hello and to read out his numerous titles, qualifications and names. Not bad 'ethical' work.

Ethical Quackery, the Monarchy and Kate Moss - Thursday, October 12, 2006

No, this is not about our Defender of Quackery, our Quack-in-Chief His Royal Quackiness, Prince Charles, but about the Distinguished Provost of the Royal College of Alternative Medicine, Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi. And yes, it is just a rather lame story written solely to get a picture of Kate on my blog.

I've written a rather lazy blog on the distinguished professor before that was just a bit of a gawp at his quacktastic website and what looks like a health phone-line scam.

Well, I've done a little more digging with Google and it has revealed a few quack gems. It has been pretty hard work, since Google returns some 6,000 pages, the vast majority just appears to be Prof Obi's self-promotion. However, if you persist in digging a few interesting facts turn up.

So, what has the little black duck found out about the "most Controversial Retired Physician and 'A-List' Medical Celebrity, Dr Joseph Chikelue Obi"?

Here we go...

1. The Irish Independent reports that his college does not exist at the Dublin address given on the web site. There's a surprise! It's just a front.

2. The Independent goes on. "In January 2003, he was suspended by for serious professional misconduct at South Tyneside District Hospital. Among the allegations made were that he failed to attend to patients, wrote strange notes about colleagues and at one point gave a dating agency phone number to a psychiatric patient."

3. He was being investigated by the police for taking thousands of pounds of a 58 year old woman to in order to cure a long standing illness.

4. The GMC strike Dr Obi off their register for "serious professional misconduct". So much for him being retired.

5. On another tack, Dr Obi has been involved in a little cyber-squatting. This looks as if it took place while he was a doctor - always after a few quid!

6. Since then, now self-titled Prof Obi, a few new avenues have been opened, including trying to entice Kate Moss away to one of his 'safe-houses' in Ireland. Hat's off!

He is quoted as saying:

Under the European Convention on Human Rights, Miss Moss still has fundamental rights, just like anyone else out there, and as far as I am concerned, she is not guilty of anything until an Ethical Jury says so.

(I mentioned before that 'ethical' was one of his favourite words.)

7. Prof Obi has been developing a Penis Enlarger (watch out Kate) that his own Royal College has now endorsed.

8. At least one person (out of the targeted million) has paid Prof Obi the fees for his college to accredit them. Dr Michael Keet (8 Canards) of the Central London College of Reflexology handed over 'hundreds'. Do we feel sorry for out-quacked quacks? I guess we ought to.

9. For those of you wanting to see behind the grand titles and see the real human being, Joseph lists his interests as Comedy in London, Whole Food Nutrition and Christian Music. On this 'Meetup' site, he describes himself as "Just a very ordinary guy . . .". That's nice.

10. His name appears very often on the blog Abolish The General Medical Council (GMC), often reporting something he has got up to. The blog describes itself as:

An ethical blog for those who publicly feel that the General Medical Council (GMC) should be Statutorily Abolished in favour of a Medical Licensing Commission (MLC) to solely register and revalidate Doctors who practise Conventional Medicine in the UK. The Blog also recommends that the GMC/MLC hands all disciplinary functions over to an Independent Clinical Tribunal (ICT) in keeping with the EU Convention on Human Rights ; to avoid (both) Institutional Bias and Multiple Jeopardy.

Oooh. There is that word 'ethical' again. And 'European Human Rights'. No name is given for the blog author but the avatar is a portrait of the queen. Another apparent obsession of Prof Obi - royalty. Could the author be none other than the Professor himself, a little agrieved for his ticking off? I hope you all click through to the blog. Maybe we will show up in his stats and whoever the writer is can get in contact and confirm one way or another.

I rather hope it is, as the final thing I turned up would just be fantastic...

11. Is the Distinguished Provost of the Royal College of Alternative Medicine, Professor Obi now selling ethical ring-tones? I do hope so.

Watch out Crazy Frog! Here comes the Crazy Provost...

Proceed with your information binge...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Goose Report '08

January 6th. Fucking January, fucking 6th, in fucking Canada. The snow's already melting, and the geese are already back, and yet we're not even halfway through what winter is supposed to be yet.

You might remember that last year I clocked the geese returning on March 16. I then went on a bit about Global Warming. Most of my comments there are still valid, so go and read that and the follow-up post if you haven't already. Today, my mind being a little bit blown by seeing the geese back this early, excuse me if I rant a little.

Okay, how the hell can so many seemingly thinking, rational people still doubt Global Warming? I can understand doubt coming from those who have a vested interest in it not being true, along with those who get all of their information form such sources. That's just confirmation bias (or lying) and Garbage In, Garbage Out respectively at work. I don't like it, but it's no surprise.

Particularly on my mind right now is the issue of South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, thanks to an episode I saw a couple days ago. They seem to really have it in for Global Warming. Now, they seem to go out of their way to attack any and everything, so an episode or two on it wouldn't be surprising or anything to worry about. I'm not going to pretend her that there aren't some people who go a bit overboard in their zeal and deserve a little mockery for it, but that apparently isn't the extent of Matt and Trey's attacks.

From my count, it seems that South Park has, directly or indirectly, addressed Global Warming in five separate episodes: "Spontaneous Combustion," "Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow," "ManBearPig," "Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow," and "Imaginationland" (episodes II and III). So, it's clear that Matt and Trey really have it in for Global Warming, and it's probably a safe bet they doubt the validity of Anthropogenic Global Warming and/or the possible consequences.

The question then is: Why? The two of them have shown remarkable skepticism in the past, taking down the likes of John Edwards ("The Biggest Douche in the Universe"), psychic detectives ("Carman's Incredible Gift"), and too many aspects of religion to mention. So what's different here?

Getting the obvious possibility out of the way: They're right, we're wrong. I don't really buy this one, of course. Personally, I don't know enough about climate science to study everything and come up with my own, independant conclusion (to any degree of confidence that I could challenge people who study it for a living), so I'm left trusting the experts. And the conclusion among them is that AGW is real and a problem. There are, of course, dissenters, but many of them have corporate ties you'd expect to introduce a bias or are so obviously cranky that I can debunk their claims myself.

So why don't Matt and Trey simply trust the experts here? Well, I'm guessing it's simply because they think the experts are wrong. I'm not going to hazard a guess right now as to why this is, as there are many possible ways they could have come to this conclusion, and I have no evidence for any particular one of them.

What I will bring up here is why they stick to this belief. For this, the chapter from the paperback edition of Michael Sheremer's Why People Believe Weird Things, "Why Smart People Believe Weird Things" gives us a very good answer. If you haven't read that, I'd recommend checking it out for the full story, but to sum it up: Smart people are very good at defending beliefs they arrived at through irrational reasoning.

This raises the issue of how important it is to be willing to change your mind. Personally, I've probably got a ton of beliefs I arrived at for bad reasons. I could well be wrong about many of them, and the issue at stake here, Global Warming, could easily be one.

So I'm opening this up to the commenters. A couple issues here you could address, depending on your own beliefs: 1) Why do you think so many smart people don't believe in AGW? What led them to their initial beliefs? or 2) Try to convince me why I shouldn't trust the expert opinion on this issue. Go for it.

Proceed with your information binge...