Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Missing the trees for the wood

I am reliably informed that 9/11 was a government job.  I am reliably informed because someone has told me so and, simple soul that I am, I am convinced.  No, not by the someone, but by the investigation that was carried out in the aftermath. 

My friend, on the other hand, is so convinced that the government, for some unexplained reason, wanted the twin towers destroyed that when I told them I didn't agree with them, their anguish was palpable.  They had proof, they said.  Watch this YouTube video.  Well, I did, and wondered why my friend couldn't see how he had been duped by someone and it wasn't the government.  He had been sold a three card trick. 

Watch and learn:

Did you watch it?  Did your head explode?  Did you spot what was wrong with the video?

If you didn't spot the flaw, let me tell you.  It is just plain wrong.  And it is wrong for so many reasons that a three year old could tell it was wrong.  At 23:39 we are told that America has made top secret antigravity powered aircraft.  Well, they are either so top secret that no one actually knows about them or they don't exist.  I am prepared to say that they don't exist.

My friend has a problem with the way he processes the information he is given.  He just misses the ifs and hears the must bes.  If, as the video suggests, America chose to use a top secret ball shaped drone to fly into the World Trade Centre, they would have chosen a pretty rubbish object to do it with.  Much better to use the traditional plane shape since it is much more controllable.  In fact, there is about 100 years of plane shaped planes and the saucer shaped things that were experimented with just after World War 2 were quickly abandoned because they were, well, rubbish. 

But my friend doesn't know this and because he doesn't know this he is open to being gullible.  If only he were better educated.  If only he tested the evidence and checked whether what was being told to him were true or not.  He found the video on YouTube so he could have found the live coverage from the major news networks in the USA and the news that a plane had hit the towers was pretty much instantaneous.  Yes, a plane.  Eyewitnesses on the phone as the second plane said struck said it was a plane.  Were they lying?  Of course they weren't.  If you don't trust me...

I feel somewhat sorry for my friend.  After all, he has bought the lie.  He doesn't have the apparatus to check, the cognitive one.  He doesn't understand that for the story to be true, all the pieces need to fit.  It's like one of those sliding tile puzzles - you can move them all over the grid but there is only one correct arrangement. 

I learnt that lesson because I had some good teachers.  I don't just mean my school teachers.  I mean Carl Sagan, James Randi, Martin Gardner, Kendrick Frazier, James Oberg.  All people who knew a huge amount more than me.  I felt in awe of them because of their abilities but I found I could gain some of their talents by emulating them.  And the thing to emulate was to ask the right questions. 

For example, if someone tells you that the US government has made some strange ball shaped drone, ask for better proof than a videotape of an airliner.  And if someone says no plane hit the twin towers, ask why the first eyewitnesses said they did.

This isn't a difficult game to play but it requires persistence because 911 Truthers, Climate Science Deniers and Moon Landing Hoaxers will repeat the same old handful of untruths time and time again.  Our old friend Lord Monckton has been repeating the same old untruth about the temperatures not going up since [insert starting point according to your cherry pick here] for as long as I care to remember (which actually in his case is about thirty seconds but in reality is a lot longer).  Since it would appear that 2014 is about to be one of the hottest years on record, if not the hottest, reality would seem to have shown Monckton to be wrong.  But reality isn't something Monckton seems to have much truck with and it would be a fair bet to say he will be repeating the same old same old next year regardless.

I'm not sure why I found reality to be more exciting than the conspiracy theories that seem to come up like mushrooms, often nurtured by the same growth medium.  Indeed, mushrooms is quite a good metaphor here - feed on manure, kept in the dark, sprout anyway. 

Because we understand the basic science so well, it is churlish to try to go against it.  Because we understand how the world works, we have great confidence in things like planes flying and saucers crashing.  My friend doesn't know it yet but one day he will probably realise his error.  It might be soon or it might be many years in the future, but it will happen.  The reason I am so confident is this: he will grow weary of being told he is wrong and finally check some of the evidence, and when he does so he will finally realise that his view of the world cannot work.  It would have to be so perfect as to be impossible. 

This is the fatal flaw of the denialist world view.  The denier wants everything to be perfect.  They want the world to fit their worldview, to conform to them, to do what they want it to.  But the real world is, like Brian Cox has just told me, like a game of cricket.  It has rules but it also has chance and the two combine to make a more or less predictable event.  We know the form of a game of cricket, but we don't know the details.  As more information is added, we start to see how it will end up.  Deniers don't understand that.  They want to know the result beforehand.

If you want to do some homework, watch Brian Cox's latest series.  I hope you get it wherever you are in the world.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Anthony Watts concern trolls his own site

From Anthony's latest post:
[NOTE: I've always believed that people who taunt others while hiding behind fake names aren't really contributing anything except their own bile and hatred. The two people that came to mind when I read this article were Dr. Joshua Halpern of Howard University aka "Eli Rabett" and Miriam O'Brien aka Sou Bundanga/Hotwhopper. These people are supposed to be professionals, yet they position themselves as childish cowards, spewing invective from the safety of anonymity while taunting people who have the integrity and courage to put their real names to their words. The best way to combat people like this is to call them out by their name every time they practice their dark art. To that end, and not just for these two losers, I'm stepping up moderation on WUWT. If you want to rant/spew from the comfort of anonymity, find someplace else to do it, because quite frankly I'm in a position in my life where I don't have the time to deal with this sort of juvenile crap. Be on your best behavior, otherwise its the bit bucket for you. Moderators, take note.. - Anthony]
I occasionally comment at WUWT but I do it anonymously.  I also do it using a real name.  Many have tried but none have succeeded in identifying who I am behind this mask of anonymity. 

Curiously, of the first twenty or so commenters, there was barely one with a full name so congratulations must go to Dyrewolf, njsnowfan, PiperPaul, Klem and Gekko for failing the irony test so quickly.  Indeed, Anthony (Willard Anthony Watts for long) fails to see the irony in this too.  And he certainly fails to see anything beyond the end of his nose.

Now, I don't know if Anthony read the full article but I doubt it.  The abstract and the press release that Anthony links to do not mention climate commenters but Anthony decides to do so.  And when you look at the tetrad of "narcissism, Machievellianism, psychopathy and sadistic personality" that the authors of the paper were looking for, you can't help but wonder what kind of mirror the commenters, and perhaps the contributors, to WUWT look in each morning.

But then again, when I have commented what I consider to be a fair comment at Willard's site, I get accused of being a troll.  So I have just examined myself.  Narcissism?  Not when you look like me - consider Lieutenant Columbo as a sartorial role model.  Machievellianism?  If Anthony knows what it means then I don't think he could apply it to me.  Psychopathy?  Doubt it.  Not in my profession.   Sadistic?  Really, I wouldn't have lasted more than 25 years in my profession with a sadistic or psychopathic tendency.  So I don't think I am a troll.

Nor do I think this research was really about the run of the mill commenters, the ones who think they have a valid point (even when they are mistaken).  No, this article was more likely about the vicious, nasty sort of internet habituĂ©.  I think we can name some, even through the smoke screen they put up.  In the end, the word troll is over used.  Most now take it to mean someone who dares to contradict the party line on the site where the comment is made.

Now here's a musical interlude:

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I've done one of those video mashup things

I've done one of those video mash up things featuring all the questions that Anthony Watts asked of John Cook and Michael Mann during the blessed Watts's grand tour of England.

Hope you like it.

Tee, hee.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

What Chance Have We Got?

There is no word for gullible in the English language.

Well, not a strong enough one anyway.  This is a post that has been fermenting in my brain for some time, ever since I accidentally landed on a TV show called America Unearthed which purported to show some link between a site in the USA and the ancient Maya.  We all know the Maya from the pointless and overhyped 2012 rubbish.  The show was equally rubbish.  If you want to know more, head here.  Jason Colavito does a better job than me of exposing the idiocy and lack of, well, anything resembling the truth.

America Unearthed is a pseudoarchaeology show presented as if the quest was the truth.  I didn't need more than a few minutes of my life to see its methods.  There were tantalising glimpses of evidence but no chance to see them properly.  There were hypotheticals that were accepted without any proper justification and there was straight assertion.  It was all wrapped in a negligee of doubt so transparent that its wearer should have been ashamed of themselves.

And there's more.  The same channel broadcasts a series called Ancient Aliens which is a bit like claiming Stargate SG-1 is a documentary series.  Same methods, same rules, same unreliable conclusions as America Unearthed.  I can only assume there is an audience for this sort of thing because there are multiple seasons of the programmes.  That's a lot of time and money spent on insulting people's intelligence.

It's frightening that a channel claiming itself to be a documentary channel can put out so much that is patently untrue.  But the H2 channel is not alone.  Other broadcasters put out equally misleading and untrue programmes masquerading as documentaries.  The good old BBC is not immune.  They hosted Henry Lincoln's shows that led to the infamous and discredited book The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail.  It happens.  Later the BBC made some amends by broadcasting a documentary that totally trashed the book. 

But documentaries have power because they slide past our eyes without the need for us to think too hard.  Some documentaries are very careful about what they present and how they present it, but in the end they are part of the entertainment industry and if they don't entertain while they are informing, then the viewing public might be tempted to see what is on another channel.  But it can be done.  Both the original Cosmos and the upgraded version this year managed both.  The World At War is both.  Spend your cash on the boxsets and educate yourselves.

Sadly, however, the Internet is where a good many will get there viewing outside of the established TV channels.  And there is a massive amount of junk out there.  If you are not the proud possessor of a word that means the opposite of gullible, you will buy into whatever you are watching.  And you can find lots more sites, videos and the like that will back up the first one.  Go on, try.  I Googled 911 evidence and found precious little actual evidence.  Apparently, Putin was about to release Moscow's archives on the attack.  I read that maybe half a dozen times.  I didn't find any that actually reported the release.  Let's call it a scam, shall we, because that is what it is.  Put out a rumour, real or invented, then bounce it around the echo chamber and it looks as if it might be a genuine thing. 

One of my bugbears is the denial of the Moon landings.  I was six when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.  I have no doubt it was real and genuine.  But I get told it wasn't by people whose actual knowledge of the events has been gleaned from, wait for it, a documentary.  Wow.  A documentary.  They can never remember which one but it was a documentary.  Perhaps I could counter that with the hundreds of documentaries that take the consensus view.  That is, the real one.

A denier is someone who believes the opposite of the truth even when they are given the truth.  Over the years I have noticed something about deniers.  They cannot agree on what the truth actually is.  There are multiple conspiracy explanations of 9/11 but there is only one that is correct.  Yes, it was a conspiracy - by a small bunch of people with the intention of flying aircraft into large iconic buildings in the north east of the USA to cause destruction and death and humiliate America.  It wasn't a conspiracy emanating from the US government.  I've been told it was because the government wanted to knock down the buildings.  Well, they weren't government buildings so it would be strange that the government would feel it could do so.  Secondly, it was a rather weird method - to fly plane loads of people into them not knowing that the buildings would collapse.  And to fly a plane into the Pentagon for the same reason?  That wouldn't work as a demolition method.  Just stupid and a moment's thought would tell you it wasn't true.

However, documentaries allow us to know without thinking.  Deniers also seem to think that the world is a binary place - black or white, right or wrong, left or right.  But that isn't the case.  It is a smeared, smudged, noisy place where the signal is often buried in the grime of reality.  Remember the days when you had to tune your radio and you could catch the noise between stations, especially on FM.  Remember listening to stations broadcasting from far away, how the signal would dip in and out.  Those days are gone, pretty much.  We don't experience the world in quite the same way, so it can feel natural that everything is neatly parcelled for out entertainment and we don't have to think for ourselves.

Strangely, as we grow it seems we become more sceptical.  Properly sceptical in most cases.  We see promises broken, we see the rise and fall of fashions and we see the press hype something only for that hype to falter.  So we learn that not all is as it seems.  We also learn that humans are fallible, that no one (not even Steven Fry) knows everything and we learn that some things are possible and that some things are likely. 

We also learn that people lie.

As an Englishman, I've kept a quarter of an eye on the Scottish referendum with no big interest in the outcome other than to wonder what might happen in the aftermath of a Yes vote.  It came in No so that doesn't matter.  What has been fun is the bickering that happens amongst politicians when something is being promised.  You learn that politicians will promise lots but reality often gets in the way.  Politics would prefer the binary world.  Reality just won't allow it.  Are politicians lying when they promise something?  Sometimes but it is easy to say they all are.  I suspect not all of them are lying.

But documentaries do lie.  The Great Global Warming Swindle did.  I watched it, thought the main premise was rubbish and moved on.  But there are many who seem to hold it as a sacred text almost.  For those, a better education awaits.  They won't get it from WUWT or Judith Curry.

Because the real information is out there.  To my Moon landing denial friends there is an absolute stack - videos (including unedited videos), photographs (the entire lot), rocks, hardware, witness testimony....  It goes on.

I had a chat with a 9/11 truther (LOL) the other week.  When I asked about the videos of planes crashing into the twin towers, I was told it was photoshopped (LOL).  I asked if the actual eye witnesses who saw planes strike the towers from the streets were lying.  My friend told me that was photoshopping too. 

Like I said, there is no word in the English language for gullible.  At least not one for being that gullible.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Courtier's Response

I have removed a site from my blog roll.  I did it because I have become fed up with the petulant attitude, the Victor Meldrew anger management issues and the lack of skepticism being shown on a number of matters by someone who claimed, a little while back, to be a true skeptic.  After bad taste and downright lack of serious thought, I've erased the site from my blog roll.

The host of that site won't be bothered by my defection.  What I care about is hypocrisy.  If someone says something you disagree with, acting like a teenager and throwing your teddy out of the pram doesn't look pretty.  So, Paul.  Sorry, you've thrown one teddy too many.  Stop acting like Willard Watts or throwing your weight around like Chrissy Boy Monckton.  Be skeptical.  Drop the  ideological concretion.  Consider that what others say might have some value.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Not listening - deniers are like teenagers

Well, a lot like this one anyway.

The loss of rational thought - hmm.  I'm not sure deniers actually lose that power, they just mangle it up.  The power of logic is commonly harvested by scientists and mathematicians to progress their work.  Deniers, on the other hand, twist logic into strange knots and accept the answers it gives, even if the answers are complete rubbish.
Let me show you an example of how using pure logic badly can yield ridiculous results:

 Time for a real world example.  Regular readers of this blog might know that Christopher Monckton is a common target for ridicule.  Let me not, therefore, be accused of anything like originality by mocking the Lord Monckton again.
This time it is not for his panacea snake oil substitute, or for his downright wrong views on climate change or his odd comments on academic behaviour.  No, I'm talking about Monckton the birther.
For those who live on the real planet Earth, a birther is someone who, for some reason, doesn't believe that Barack Obama was born in the USA.  So far as I can understand, this is the result of the man's skin not being the required flesh tone, and his politics not being the required fruitcake teabagger kind.  I won't bother explaining why the birther movement is wrong.  It's just so stupid.  No, I want to use a moment of supreme stupidity to explain why deniers are like teenagers.
Monckton wrote an article for the slightly deluded World Net Daily (correction of title 17/8/14) with the headline Obama eligibility odds: 1 in 62.5 quintillion.  The guff under the headline says that Monckton has crunched the numbers.  Well, he certainly crunches some numbers but you know one thing about those numbers just by looking at them.  I won't spoil it for you.  Go and have a look.
On second thoughts, since its Monckton, don't bother.  Just look at this, a list of some probabilities that Monckton created from thin air deployed in his calculation of the probability that Obama's birth certificate is genuine:
He cites:
  • The fact that the registrar’s signature-stamp on the electronic form can be moved about: 100:1 against.
  • Registrar’s date-stamp ditto: 100:1 against.
  • Multiple 1-bit monochrome layers and one 8-bit color layer: 60:1. (Experts twice found no such pattern in 600 file-optimization programs: I allow for 10 anomalous programs to exist.)
  • “Lavishly funded bureaucracy uses wonky typewriter:” 10:1
  • Human error: Certificate number out of sequence: 25:1
  • Incorrect birth date of father: 40:1
  • Use of “African” contrary to written form-filling rules and 20 years before the term came into common use: 25:1
  • Miscoded statistical data: 25:1 (official government estimate).
  • White halo around letters: 10:1
  • Chromatic aberration absent: 100:1
  • Other identity documents: Anomalously worded abstract on short-form birth certificate: 100:1
  • Two-digit year on selective service stamp against DoD written rules: 100:1 (actually impossible: no two-digit example other than that of Kenya’s “son of the soil” is known)
  • Non-citizen of Connecticut holds Connecticut social security number: 100:1.
Now, any number of things should give the game away that these numbers are not, shall we say, real.  They have no basis in reality.  My favourite is the last one.  A 100-1 chance that a non-citizen of Connecticutt holds a Connecticutt social security number would imply that 1% of all Americans would have such a thing.  That would be something like 2 million Americans.  I think the minions in local government in that state might have some explaining to do. 
The point is, of course, that the birth certificate was produced because the birther movement demanded it as proof or otherwise that Obama was born in the USA.  When it was delivered, the birther movement would not accept it.  They poured over it in microscopic detail to find anomalies that the rest of us would accept as those little accidents that life throws up.  As a for instance, my uncle, who died in 1982, had his name misspelled on his coffin lid.  The mistake was only noticed after the coffin had been lowered into the grave.  These things happen.  You can do what I did when I read that a "lavishly funded bureaucracy uses a wonky typewriter" - laugh and wonder who said it was a lavishly funded etc and why wouldn't a typewriter be wonky.  Inkjets and laser printers have made pecking at a typewriter a thing of the past, along with their imperfections.
Back to teenagers.  Those of us who encounter them on a regular basis know that, just like Kevin, between the ages of 13 and 19, teenagers commonly know everything and they know it best.  Deniers do that too.  I will grant that some teenagers are knowledgeable, just as some deniers are.  But that does not make them infallible.  Many teenagers are firmly sure they are infallible.  Deniers are just like that.  Confronted by the truth, deniers just dig deeper and deeper in an effort to find another flaw.
One of the great things about being human, in my opinion, is finding out that the centre of the Universe lies some distance away from me.  That there is so much more to explore than just the backyard.  You also learn that things don't always go as planned.  Some days it rains and you can't play in the garden.  And you learn that making stuff up doesn't always work.
I won't debunk Monckton's drivel.  That is done eloquently here and here.  Just to say it is indicative of his mindset and that of lots of deniers, if not all of them.  The denier thinks that just asking awkward questions is enough, and that making stuff up is acceptable.  But most of all, the denier thinks that reality is something that can be ignored.
When told the truth, deniers live up to their name.  They deny.  I first encountered the idea of deniers when I stepped innocently into the so-called Apollo moonlanding conspiracy.  There wasn't one.  The evidence is mountainous that NASA did land men on the Moon.  Six times.  That seems to be forgotten.  And the ignorance of the deniers is something that doesn't diminish.  No matter how often they get told, deniers don't learn.
I have maligned teenagers by comparing them with deniers.  Teenagers are actually more like octopuses - putting their tentacles out in all directions, learning in the same way a sponge absorbs water.  They don't act like deniers - they question because they don't know, not because they are trying to score points all the time. 
I've used Monckton's mathematical fantasy to illustrate the mindset of a denier - no matter what the truth is, they will still deny it.  As Monckton says of his own mental maths:
Don’t be misled by the simplicity of the method. It’s simple but sound. The result is solid.
How wrong he is.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Watt to see in England

So, Anthony Watts is coming to England to heckle see a couple of talks, one by John Cook and one by Michael Mann, in Bristol in September.  Since I gave Willis Eschenbach some advice on what to look for on his tour of the UK, I thought I might do the same for Willard.

The first thing to look out for is the fact that we, here, in England are extremely keen on thermometers.  Willard will see them everywhere.  Here are just a few examples:

Willard might notice that thermometers outside of churches even a mile apart are giving entirely different temperatures (in non-F units too which could confuse him) and that should give him more ammunition for his village heat islands project.
He may also like to go to Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire.  This is the geographical centre of England and therefore the place where the Central England temperature series is recorded.  I am sure he will find the thermometer outside the church where they are traditionally placed in England.

Having visited Central England, it is essential that Willard takes a trip to see the House Of Lords and play spot the Monckton.  That's right.  He isn't there.

There is a chance, however, that Willard will not be able to tell the difference between the Lords and Lord's.  To help him, here is a picture of the latter.  The game they are playing involves a bat, a ball and some fielders, only one of who has gloves.

So with a little preparation, Willard should enjoy his trip.  And if he keeps his mouth shut at the talks, he might even manage to look intelligent too.