A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘You Can’t Cure Stupid’ tag

Pop Science Versus Science

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Two days ago I said that the March for Science would more appropriately be called the March for Philosophy. I fear that I may have given many of the marchers too much credit.

One of the biggest problems with the concept of science in popular culture is that few people actually understand what the scientific method entails:

Let’s start with my contention that most “pro-science” demonstrators have no idea what they were demonstrating about. Being “pro-science” has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon in which liberals (and other members of the cultural elite) engage in public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art, while demonstrating zero evidence to justify it. On any given day, many of my most “woke” friends are quick to post and retweet viral content about the latest on what Science (and I’m capitalizing this on purpose) “says,” or what some studies “prove.” But on closer look, much of what gets shared and bandied about is sheer bullshit and is diagnostic of one thing only: The state of science (and science literacy) in this country, and most of the planet for that matter, is woefully bad. For example, the blog IFLScience (IFL stands for “I f—ing love”) seems singularly committed to undermining legitimately good science half the time, while promoting it the other half—which, scientifically speaking, is a problem. Here’s a neat one that relays news about a study that suggested that beer hops may protect against liver disease. I’ll be sure to mention that to the next alcoholic with hepatitis and cirrhosis that I treat. To date that article has been shared 41,600 times. Very few of those readers, I should mention, were mice, though the research was carried out in, you guessed it, mice. (And of course, this type of coverage is not refined to cleverly named blogs.)

So many self-proclaimed science fans have such a gross misunderstanding of what science is that they don’t even know what they don’t know. They see some meme shared by a Facebook group that claims to promote science and they mindlessly believe whatever the short caption in the meme says. They never seek out the published research paper to see what the methodology or conclusion were. This is because most of the people who are proclaiming a love of science are really in love with pop science, which is nothing more than an exercise in taking a kernel of truth from scientific research and embellishing it so it appeals to the masses (Beer hops protects against liver disease!).

Actual science is seldom flashy. It’s rare to find a scientist who claims that their research proves something. Most scientists couch their language because they realize that the scientific method doesn’t prove anything, it merely gives or takes weight away from hypotheses. They know that future research could render their hypothesis incorrect. You’ll rarely find a research paper that concludes that beer hops protects against liver disease.

Science, like religion, has become just another tool for the masses to support their confirmation bias. Any pop science that supports an average person’s beliefs is treated as gospel while any pop science or real science that disproves their beliefs is labeled bad science and discarded. In other words, science does the opposite of what it’s intended to for most people.

How did this happen? As with so many problems, this one may have been the results of good people with good intentions trying to do the right thing. A lot of teachers, professors, and television personalities encouraged kids to become scientists. This idea sounds good because having more scientists should, theoretically, increase the rate of scientific discovery. However, like so many religions, these advocates changed the message to make it more appealing to their audience. They engrained in children all of the cool things that science can do but left out most of the gritty details. Now these children have grown up. Most of them found the actual practice of science to be dull so they went into other careers. But they never stopped believing in what they were taught about how cool science is. I theorize that we have a bunch of people basically parroting instilled religious beliefs without actually understanding what they’re parroting. In that way, I find the average Christian, who generally isn’t well-versed in Christian theology, to be indistinguishable from the average self-proclaimed lover of science, who generally isn’t well-versed in the scientific method.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 28th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Hidden but Obvious Selective Biases

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I came across this article, which argues that it’s time to take away voting rights from white men. I don’t have anything to say about the argument in the article itself since I think voting is stupid and pointless. But one paragraph jumped out at me:

At the same time, a denial of the franchise to white men, could see a redistribution of global assets to their rightful owners. After all, white men have used the imposition of Western legal systems around the world to reinforce modern capitalism. A period of twenty years without white men in the world’s parliaments and voting booths will allow legislation to be passed which could see the world’s wealth far more equitably shared. The violence of white male wealth and income inequality will be a thing of the past.

Socialists like to argue that capitalism is bad because it’s a philosophy of white men. However, if we look at the most prominent socialist thinkers we’re left with a trend that socialists like to ignore. Karl Marx? White man. Friedrich Engels? White man. Vladimir Lenin? White man. Mikhail Bakunin? White man. As it turns out, modern socialism appears to be a philosophy of white men as well.

I don’t hold the belief that something is good or bad because it’s predominantly advocated by people of a certain race, gender, religious belief, etc. and the fact that modern socialism is predominantly advocated by white men isn’t the point of this post. The point of this post is that a lot of people practice selection bias that is obvious to anybody outside of their circle but almost entirely unseen by people within their circle.

Socialists, for example, like to accuse capitalism of being a philosophy of white men while ignoring the fact that their philosophy is no different in that regard. They also like to claim that every failed socialist state wasn’t real socialism but was really a capitalist state. To people within their circle, this confirmation bias goes mostly unseen. To those of us outside of their circle, it’s as obvious as a baseball bat to the face. And just in case you think that I’m letting capitalists off of the hook, I’m not. They fall into the same trap. Everybody does. This is why you should always be open to the possibility that your beliefs are wrong.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 28th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Pragmatism is My Least Favorite Philosophy

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Pragmatism is my least favorite philosophy. Unfortunately, it seems to be the philosophy a majority of the human race as subscribed to.

The idea behind pragmatism is that policies should be implemented that provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people. On paper that doesn’t sound bad. In practice it has lead to a tremendous amount of death and destruction.

The very foundation of pragmatism is unsound because it never addresses what the greatest good. What qualifies as the greatest good to me may not necessarily qualify as the greatest good to you. Consider the Nazi Party (we’re brining Godwin into this conversation right at the start). The Nazi Party blamed much of the world’s problems on the Jews and decided that the world would be far better without them. This lead to the Holocaust. Now consider the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union believed that the greatest good for humanity was communism. It saw anybody who disagreed with communism as a threat to the future of humanity and, like the Nazi Party, chose to exterminate that perceived threat. Millions of people were slaughtered by those two regimes. Did they provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people? Most people today would say that they didn’t but the people who were running those regimes believed that they were.

Therein lies the biggest problem with pragmatism: anything goes so long as it can be justified as the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If a few million people have to die? Well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few million eggs! That’s just the price we have to pay for progress!

Written by Christopher Burg

April 27th, 2017 at 11:00 am

The March for Philosophy

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This weekend was the March for Science. What was the March for Science? A march for philosophy.

Judging by the number of people who participated in the March for Science, there are a lot of people who don’t understand what science actually is. Perhaps nothing illustrates this fact better than the commonly used phrase, “The science is settled.”

Science, or more specifically the scientific method, is a process of discovery that relies on observation and experimentation. First, a phenomenon is observed. Second, a hypothesis that explains that phenomenon is developed. Third, an experiment is performed to determine whether the hypothesis is plausible or not. Eventually, if enough experimentation indicates that the hypothesis is correct, a theory is developed. The keywords here are “hypothesis,” “experimentation,” and “theory.” Theories are not immutable truths. Every theory has the potential of being proven incorrect by future experimentation. So science can never be settled.

The existence of this misunderstand can be further illustrated by people mixing the scientific method with democracy. How many times have you heard a variation of the phrase, “[Insert an arbitrary but large number] percent of scientists agree that…” as if it meant something? Democracy is based on the idea that truth can be discovered by polling a voting body. Science is based on the idea that observation and experimentation can help us explain natural phenomenon. The two are unrelated. Even if 99.9 percent of scientists agree on one theory they can be proven wrong if the remaining 0.1 percent perform an experiment that proves the majority’s theory incorrect. A debate based on what the plurality of scientists think isn’t a scientific debate.

The purpose of the March for Science was to promote science-based policies. This purpose is entirely philosophical in nature. You see, the scientific method is a tool that can address a specific problem domain, namely the understanding of natural phenomenon. The scientific method cannot address all problem domains though. There’s no way to prove that two plus two equal four with the scientific method. To do that humans rely on deductive logic. There’s also no way to prove that the scientific method is the proper tool for understanding natural phenomenon. To do that humans rely on philosophy.

What is the best way for humans to conduct themselves in groups? The scientific method is not the proper tool for answering this question because the answer cannot be discovered through experimentation. The best way is not a natural phenomenon, it’s a subjective criteria. For example, the most important criteria for decided the best way is individual freedom. For a somebody else, the most important criteria may be equality in wealth. The question is necessarily philosophical because it’s subjective.

Whenever somebody says that the United States needs more scientists they’re using philosophy because they are using their subjective criteria, the number of scientists, to decide the best way for humans in an arbitrarily defined group (often referred to as “society”) to conduct themselves. The same is true for anybody who says that there needs to be more government funding for scientific education.

Naturally, I’m apt to blame the government indoctrination system, which is often mistakenly referred to as an education system, for Saturday’s deplorable public display of ignorance. I’m also smart enough to know that my blame is philosophical in nature, not scientific, because there is no way for me to perform an experiment that can confirm or deny my hypothesis. I will also say that I philosophically find this widespread ignorance detrimental to humanity (based on my subjective criteria of what is best for humanity).

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Not Surprising for an Agency with a 95 Precent Failure Rate

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Almost two years ago it was revealed that the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) missed a whopping 95 precent of restricted items. You would think that such a damning report would have lead to a top to bottom rework of the agency’s practices. But the TSA is a government agency, which means it doesn’t suffer consequences for failing, unlike market actors, and therefore has no motivation to improve. That’s what, two years later, we still get to read stories like this:

An off-duty policewoman flew from Los Angeles international airport (LAX) to Taiwan with a gun in her hand luggage.

The weapon was not detected during security screening and Noell Grant only realised she was carrying it as she changed planes in Taipei.

At one point I noted that the TSA exists solely to provide warm and fuzzy feelings to passengers who are too ignorant to realize that the agency isn’t securing anything. But as these stories continue to role out even ignorant fools are likely becoming aware of the fact that the TSA is just as ineffective as every other government agency. When that realization sets in the warm and fuzzy feelings of ignorance vanish, which means the agency serves no purpose whatsoever. The TSA should be completely abolished tomorrow.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 21st, 2017 at 10:00 am

How to Save Yourself $400

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How do you take a boring old consumer appliance like a juicer and spice it up? By putting a chip in it, of course! That is the philosophy behind most Internet of Things (IoT) products. But before you can toss a chip in you need to give the consumers a reason why having a chip in their appliance will literally revolutionize their Web 3.0 existences.

Juicero was yet another bad idea made possible by Silicon Valley venture capital. The idea was to take a regular juicer, make it not be a juicer, add Wi-Fi, and charge an arm and a leg for proprietary juice bags. Basically, it’s a juicer that doesn’t actually juice but includes a chip for Wi-Fi and DRM. But wait, there’s more! Not only does the product include a bunch of stupid features but it also costs an arm and a leg! However, some clever super elite hacker has already found a way to bypass the need for Juicero’s expensive appliance:

Doug Evans, the company’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force—“enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup. Juicero sells the machine for $400, plus the cost of individual juice packs delivered weekly. Tech blogs have dubbed it a “Keurig for juice.”

But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands.

Apparently the “Steve Jobs of juicing perfection” didn’t have the resources to hire somebody who could foresee consumers just squeezing the proprietary juice bags. While there are a lot of valid criticisms against Steve Jobs, it’s difficult to deny that he had a knack for hiring talented people. Doug Evens, on the other hand, apparently lacks that knack. But he did managed to sucker $120 million out of backers so his ability to make money is certainly there.

Adding Internet connectivity makes sense for a lot of products but many IoT companies don’t seem to be asking why it makes sense to add connectivity to their products. Instead, they seem to be adding connectivity to regular products for marketing reasons (it’s not just a juicier, it’s a smart juicer) so consumers will buy them in spite of the other limitations put into place to lock users into the manufacturer’s “platform.” Fortunately, clever people tend to find ways to bypass the platform lock-in and all of us can laugh at $120 million being flushed down the toilet.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2017 at 10:00 am

A Rose by Any Other Name

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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Likewise, socialism by any other name would smell just as awful.

The United States is in the midsts of a small cultural skirmish. International socialists, often going by the moniker “antifascists,” are locking horns with national socialists, who are going by the moniker “alt-right.” These fights have been mostly silly to outside observers since they more resemble skits from The Three Stooges than Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts. Both sides seem to believe that they’re the exact opposite of each other but in reality they’re mirror images of one another:

People often argue over whether Hitler and Mussolini were “right wing” or “left wing.” More to the point is that both men’s ideologies had roots in the Progressive movement of the turn of the 20th century.

The Progressive movement was closely tied to the philosophy of Pragmatism: the belief that thought is a tool for action and change. In contrast to the ancient and medieval philosophers, for whom philosophy was the contemplation of reality, the Progressives were animated by the desire to mold reality and to harness knowledge for social betterment. Many in the vanguard of progressive thought initially were enamored of Mussolini and even Hitler, considering their dictatorships a useful “social experiment.”

[…]

Complete state control of all aspects of life was seen as highly pragmatic and scientific by many. Nationalism and militarism – elements commonly associated with the Right – were actually key components of the Progressive Era, flourishing in particular under President Woodrow Wilson, as Goldberg documents.

I’m not an “ends justify the means” kind of guy specifically because following that philosophy leads to national or international socialism, which both lead to democide.

I have friends who have cheered and antifascist punching a fascist and other friends who have cheered a fascist punching an antifascist. These friends of mine have been sucked into a trap where they believe each side’s rhetoric about being the opposite of the other side. Personally, I like the idea of locking these two groups into an arena, throwing a few swords into the mix, and letting them fulfill their goal of wiping the other group out. But I digress.

The fight between national and international socialists is no different than the fight between statist libertarians and anarcho-capitalists, with the exception being that the latter hasn’t turned into a Three Stooges skit yet. It’s not a fight between two opposing groups but infighting amongst two factions of the same group that have very minor disagreements.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 19th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Dim Lightbulb Lights Up

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Rahm Emanuel is the current feudal lord of Chicago. Throughout his political life he has been an unapologetic advocate of big government. How to pay for big government programs is a question that appears to never have crossed his mind, until now:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a message for the Trump administration as it prepares an infrastructure-building push: The money has got to come from somewhere.

“You’re going to have to be honest with people: It takes money,” Mr. Emanuel said Wednesday at a breakfast panel in The Wall Street Journal’s “Business of America” series. “When we built schools and roads in Iraq, we didn’t do it on tax credits.”

I can see the lightbulb lighting up over his head, although very dimly. Still, the habit of politicians to both espouse certain political beliefs and simultaneously speaking out against them has always fascinated me. Mr. Emanuel is a great example of this. When it comes to his pet projects spending isn’t an issue. When it comes to his political opponents’ projects spending is suddenly an important issue.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 18th, 2017 at 10:30 am

You Keep Using That Word

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New York is considering make college tuition “free”for all students from households that earn less than $125,000 per year:

ALBANY, New York (Fox 32 News) – This weekend, the New York state legislature moved another step towards making tuition free for all public four-year colleges in the state.

The free college educations are part of the state budget agreement.

The Washington Post reported if the budget passes, the state it will pay tuition for any New York resident accepted into a New York community college or four-year university. The student’s family must earn less than $125,000/year.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Electricity, water, building maintenance, food, professors, etc. all need to be acquired and acquiring those things costs money. Simply passing a piece of legislation doesn’t make economic realities go away (believe me, many socialist nations have tried). New York isn’t proposing free college, it’s proposing a plan to dump the costs on somebody besides the students. In this case, as is the case with all “free” government programs, the costs will be dumped on the denizens of New York. Not only will households making more than $125,000 per year be soaked more but taxes will have to go towards college tuition as well. Instead of the students going to college paying for it, this proposal will make tax payers in New York pay for it whether they are or have students in a New York university or not.

But so many people have been “educated” in government indoctrination centers that they’ll eagerly lap this nonsense up. Then after everything goes to Hell they’ll demand the government step in again to fix the mess it created.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 13th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Just Like Government Police Departments

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One of the funniest forms of criticism, in my opinion, is claiming that a new entity will be able to do the same thing a current entity is doing. For example, Alabama just voted to allow churches to establish their own police departments. My favorite part about this isn’t the idea of churches with inquisitors police departments though, it’s this:

Critics of the bill argue that a police department that reports to church officials could be used to cover up crimes.

Oh no! Church police departments may be able to do the exact same thing government police departments already do on a daily basis?!

These critics may want to think really hard about what they’re saying. They may come to an interesting revelation.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 13th, 2017 at 10:00 am