Saturday, April 22, 2017
After almost 20 years in space, the Cassini space probe begins it's grand finale this month. Fuel reserves are dwindling and so NASA have decided that rather than allowing the craft to potentially crash into one of the moons of Saturn (i.e. random decay) and "contaminate" what could be potentially life harboring environments; a more fitting end to this stunning mission is a controlled dive thru ever diminishing orbits around the master planet itself. Bisecting the cloudy upper atmosphere and the rings until a final, fatal, descent into Saturn itself, gathering and sending data all the while. A truly spectacular end to what has been one of the most productive and illuminating space missions in recent times. The picture above is Cassini's final picture of our home planet, in true Sagan'esc style the pale blue dot is quite simply "us" from a billion miles distance, goosebumps..
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 12:30 pm
Friday, April 21, 2017
Bias is the scourge of Human-kind; whether it's confirmation bias, survivorship bias, the bandwagon effect, ingroup bias or even the gamblers fallacy, bias invariably leads us into making bad decisions. From people who believe they were cured by sugar pills (confirmation bias) through to people who voted for Trump (bandwagon) we are all influenced by bias from some perspective or other. The challenge is to recognise that fact and to be able to step (intellectually) outside of our personal bubbles for a bit so that we can look at a situation objectively, in my experience, far more enlightenment tends to come that way.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 8:21 am
Thursday, April 20, 2017
I came across this old piece the other day, it's a "Baloney Detection Checklist" written ages ago by none other than Carl Sagan - still perfectly serviceable and very useful in this day and age.
- Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
- Arguments from authority carry little weight—“authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
- Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
- Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way-station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
- Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
- If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise)—not just most of them.
- Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
- Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are un-testable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle—an electron, say—in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 9:09 pm
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
I like this little truism. I was having a related conversation with my teenage son recently, we were discussing career choices and what makes the difference between happy/successful people and those that end up in jobs that are just that, i.e. "a job". I found it really enlightening to talk about this subject with him, clearly many kids struggle to grasp the complexities and nuances of the workplace (why wouldn't they!) and how people make a crust; it's unfortunate that they have to pretty much make the most critical decisions that affect their choices at a point when they invariably know so little. I feel like there should be a subject in the curriculum on this, something that covered the choices and the ramifications of those choices, almost like an A-Level selection O-Level. I suppose this is what careers advice is supposed to be about but in my experience that didn't help much for those of us without a crystal clear view of our futures or even what subjects we might enjoy.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 2:24 pm
An excellent J&M today; I always found it amazingly coincidental how the parochial wishes of religious leaders (usually men) are almost always catered for generously by the God or Gods they believe in, and when they're not, can be "interpreted" in somehow.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 1:10 pm
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
So, a general election in June it is then! I suppose this kind of strategic manipulation and exploitation of the weakness of your opponents is what we should expect from politicians these days, but I still feel slightly uncomfortable with the overwhelmingly cynical feel to it all. I'm wondering if this might be another SDP moment, where centre-leaning members of the Labour party and left leaning members of the Liberal Democrats join forces to try to prevent the Tories winning a total landslide, but then again, judging from the lacklustre response to the ongoing Brexit disaster (see above), I can't see the current crop of Labour or Liberal politicians being organised enough to get their act together in time.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 12:21 pm
Interesting chart based on research done by OurWorldInData.org; we see how key Human factors have changed over the last 200 years. Child mortality is the most striking chart for me, going from 43 deaths per 100 in 1820 down to 4 deaths in 100 in 2015, the effect of medical science becoming pervasive. All of these charts are moving in the "right" direction for those of us interested in maximising Human well-being; although worryingly democracy is perhaps the shakiest looking chart of all, it's certainly the most spiky, I do hope we're not entering another huge trough like we did in the 1940's.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 10:41 am
I've been following the news in Turkey with interest lately. They had a referendum on Sunday that was narrowly won by the existing regime, the result gives the incumbent president sweeping new powers and is seen by many as a retrograde step in terms of democracy and secularism in that country. Like many things that happen in Turkey (and elsewhere in that part of the world) these days it is difficult for outsiders to sift fact from fiction, was this a rigged vote? And, much like the recent coup attempt I am left with a niggling feeling that it was somehow staged by the Government in order to fulfil a broader strategy, a longer-term play.
What does seem clear is that Erdogan has Islamist leanings, he has done much over the last 10 years to roll-back the secularist advances made in Turkey over a century ago, critics and journalists have been thrown in jail and religion has taken a much bigger role in Government and he now has complete control over the judiciary and pretty much every other wing of state that has, until now, avoided his grasp.
So, is this the end of democracy in Turkey? Has it's Prime Minister now made the final transition from Politician to Sultan? I suppose you could argue that at least the border between Europe and the rest is clearer now, but with Turkey still within NATO and seemingly with it's hand on the Syrian immigration tap I fear that we'll be grappling with these thorny questions for many years to come.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 9:25 am
Monday, April 17, 2017
My only major concession to the Easter food-fest this year was a slice of my Mothers' delicious simnel cake, I'm a total sucker for marzipan. This is because I'm still cutting back on calories and even with a full roast lamb dinner (with wine) yesterday, albeit with smaller portions for me, I only managed around 1250 for the day (with exercise subtracted) which was satisfyingly budgeted for in the master spreadsheet. Pleasingly (and unusually) I've managed to resist all chocolate completely so far this holiday, even though the house seems to be absolutely full of the stuff! Only another month or so to go and I can start to relax a bit, well, for a few years at least.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 10:59 am
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Thursday, April 13, 2017
More religious intolerance on display this time of an Islamic bent and as is typical, a whole lot more lethal than the Tesco "Good Friday ad" scuffle today. In Pakistan a student was lynched (and killed) by a his fellow students; he was accused of "blasphemy" (a victimless crime) In reality the hapless young man was simply killed by a mob of moronic thugs who are so insecure in their supposed allegiance to the "religion of peace" that they feel it necessary to beat those with different thoughts to their own to death. The irony that this took place at a supposed "University" (i.e. a place of learning and free-thought) is overwhelming. Yet another reason never to visit that country or prop it up it in any way until the Government there start to properly crack-down on this kind of barbarism.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 7:25 pm
I see that there's a storm brewing over an ad made by Tesco for beer and cider that ruffled a few religious feathers. As is usual with religious "offence taking", no one can actually explain why this particular phrase is bad. Some say that "Good Friday" is a corruption of "God's Friday" (still don't see what's bad?) some say that it's a "Holy day" and therefore referring to it in this way is "crass". This objection is presumably coming from the same set of people that whinged about Cadbury not advertising the word "Easter" on their chocolate egg signs (I wish these Christians would make their flippin minds up!) What most Christian commentators seem to miss here is that "Easter" only means something religious to less than half the population, and whilst I would never condone the persecution of any minority this advertisement is clearly not that, and is simply referring to the LABEL that we (all) give to an official bank holiday in the UK, nothing more.
For me this is just another reason to abandon "official" religious holidays altogether. If we were a properly secular country (as suggested by the make-up of our population) then we'd just have public holidays for the sake of taking time off work and spending time with friends and family, any public declaration of the names of said holidays, in any context, wouldn't offend anyone. If people want to celebrate their particular flavour of mythology on particular days of the year, then that's perfectly fine by me; just don't burden the rest of us with your silly pedantry.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 6:44 pm
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Went skiing last week in France with a couple of other families; had an interesting debate with one of the Women on the trip one evening about IT support. Her position on the thorny issue of making phones, computers and the like do the things that she wanted them to do was basically that "her brain" wasn't "suited" to IT (i.e. non-scientific) and so she always looked to someone else to help her fix issues rather than invest time learning the basics herself.
I know a lot of people with this same attitude toward technology and I think it's problematic. I tried to illustrate things from the perspective of the person that typically gets lumbered with the job of "fixing" things for people like her (in her case her Son). The analogy I used seemed to work well; I offered her the example of a boy/son/husband who announces to his Mother/Wife that his brain wasn't suited to "cooking" and so when he needed to eat his Mother/Wife would just need to stop what she was doing and cook for him. You could equally substitute hoovering, cleaning or washing for cooking, but you get the drift, my feeling is that people need to step outside of their comfort zone every now and again.
It's strange that people single out technology for special treatment in this way. What we do with technology is complex and different people use things like phones and computers for different things and therefore it's impractical to expect any individual to know "everything" about all the various apps, devices or faults that may arise. Skill and competence requires investment, people wouldn't expect to intuitively speak a foreign language so why should they expect to intuitively use a complex machine like a computer?
In the end I suggested that she get herself enrolled on an introductory course (there are loads around) that covered the basics of using computing devices (iPhone in her case) and take things from there; those not willing to make any investment in learning can sometimes appear very exploitative to those of us who have paid their dues and put the hours in.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 4:32 pm
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Next time someone tells you that there's not a Scientific consensus on things like evolution or global warming and therefore can safely be ignored, please remind them that before the data was in, there didn't used to be a consensus on smoking being unhealthy either (see above). But, since 99.99% of scientists TODAY are in agreement that such things are real then that should be good enough for politicians to ACT urgently to prevent the pollution of young minds or our environment.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 11:25 am
Monday, April 10, 2017
First it was the war on Christmas and now we have those nasty Secularists trying to remove the word "Easter" from chocolate eggs in order to gain world supremacy for their blasphemous ideology. What the hell chocolate eggs have to do with a (possibly mythical) wandering 1st century Jewish shamen is a complete mystery to us all but hey ho, perhaps type 2 diabetes wasn't a big issue back then?
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 3:32 pm