Voting and vaccinating

Some people think it isn’t rational to vote. Usually the argument is as follows: the probability of being pivotal, that is: the probability that your vote will ‘decide’ the winner, shrinks rapidly as the number of voters increases. So if you vote in the hope of determining an outcome, then the probability of that happening is small enough for it not to be worthwhile trying.

Let’s leave aside the virtues of this argument and consider a hypothetical against vaccination.

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A: You know I like the idea of using logic and logical deduction to understand how thinking should be done. This idea that beliefs are, or at least should be, the conclusions of deductive arguments is very clear and elegant. But I do worry…

B: You worry?  Tell me about your worries.

Continue reading “Premises”

What’s so great about real names?

A little while back a New York Times article discusses the consequences for college admission of saying undiplomatic things in social media. Apparently colleges monitor, or at least check up on, the social media presence of their potential applicants to see whether they’re the right kind of person for the school. Inevitably, students scrub, curate, or simply hide their account in response.

Leaving aside the possible rights and wrongs of this behaviour, we might ask: how does the college identify a social media account as belonging to one of their potential students? The general answer is that social media like Facebook and Google plus have a ‘real names policy’. And the answer to why they have that is, allegedly, that people behave more civilly towards one another when they are not hidden behind an anonymising username. One may doubt that is the only reason, given the value of the personal information thereby acquired. Nevertheless it seems to widely believed that, despite some awkward evidence to the contrary, that this works.

How does it work, if it does? Continue reading “What’s so great about real names?”

Quantifying the international search for meaning

Inspired by Preis et al.’s article Quantifying the advantage of looking forward, recently published in Scientific Reports (one of Nature publishing group’s journals), I wondered if similar big-data web-based research methods might address a question even bigger than how much different countries wonder about next year. How about the meaning of life. Who is searching for clarification about the meaning of life? And how is that related to the more obvious life task of getting richer?
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On the use and abuse of weasels in science journalism

Dean Burnett writes a column in Guardian, sometimes about science but more entertainingly on pseudo-, wannabe-, and not-actually- science. Most of the time this is good BS-shovelling fun and I recommend it. Unfortunately today we get some ill-considered overreach under the guise of shovelling.

The subject is a silly equation purporting to define how depressing any day of the year is, and thereby to identify the most depressing one. It is sufficiently silly that it doesn’t deserve a link, has no redeeming features and if you’ve not read it yet you’re just lucky. He’s right. It is nonsense.

The arguments are more interesting, if a bit alarming. To put it bluntly: if they were sound they would sink all regression models about any social issue of any interest to anybody ever.
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