Monday, October 10, 2005

No elephants

As with most Australians, I have an interest in sports. This has lead me to become a participant in a sports forum called The Grandstand.
Many Australians also experience the problem of Kangaroos straying onto the roads and causing a hazard. To avoid damage, many vehicles have a big steel bull-bar attached to the front of the vehicle, which will take the impact from a collision with a Kangaroo. This may be good for the car and it's passengers, but it's not good for the Kangaroos.
One solution is the Shoo Roo. This is an electronic device that emits a shrill whistling noise that scares the Kangaroos off the road before the arrival of the car. One of the members of the forum was enquiring as to the effectiveness of the equipment. Another responded that the equipment works because they had it attached to their vehicle and never had problems. This lead another member to state that it must also work for elephants because he had never heard of a car with the shoo roo ever being hit by an elephant.
While said in jest, the comment revealed the logical fallacy of "Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc". Just because one event follows another, does not mean that the first event caused the second. In this case, the lack of collisions with Kangaroos since the installation of the equipment may have a different cause. You're not likely to find many Kangaroos jumping down the main streets of Sydney or Melbourne.
I live in an area where there are many Kangaroos on the roads and have not had any collisions since I got my license almost 20 years ago. And thankfully, I am able to say I've not hit any elephants either.
I have not done any research on the Shoo Roo. For all I know it may work and work well. But it will need more than a Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc argument to convince me.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

100 million people can't be wrong

One of the arguments to support the use of SCAM is that there woudn't be so many people using it if it didn't work.

This is known as the "argumentum ad populum" fallacy. With the Christmas season just having passed, I was thinking of an example to show how this type of thinking can lead people to the wrong conclusion.

This has been done in a bit of a hurry, so the figures are estimates only and may not be totally accurate. The figures used are designed to show the theory and expose the fallacy that are important.

The population of the world is approx 6.4 Billion. Of this population I believe it would be conservative to estimate that 20% celebrate Christmas as a holiday for giving gifts. This is about 1.3 Billion people. Based on average life expactancy around 70 to 80, the number in this group that would be aged between 3 and 10 would around 8% of the population.

From these assumptions, we have around 100 million children who believe in Santa. If we accept the argument by those who say that alternative medicine must work, otherwise there would not be so many people who use and believe in it, then it is just as valid to say that Santa is real because there are around 100 million people who believe in him.

If you are after an example with adults, simply look at religion. We have conflicting beliefs between Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist, Animalists, Athiests and other religions. Each group has millions of followers. It doesn't really matter which one you believe, the truth of any one means that there are millions who are wrong.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. No one is entitled to their own facts." - James Schlesinger

"The presence of belief, does not indicate the existence of truth."
"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Sixth Sense for Tsumani Animals

The world has been rocked by the huge number of human dead, injured and missing and the massive devastation of the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

In the midst of all this carnage, there was a report that stated no elephants and other wild animals had been reported. This lead the reporter to trot out the line that animals have a sixth sense, could feel the Tsunami coming and left the beaches to escape from the danger they knew was coming.

As someone who lived in one of the effected countries for a couple of years, I can't seem to recall seeing elephants frolicking on the beaches and in the tourist resorts when I was there. Could we also say that Kangaroos, Polar Bears and Penguins also have this sixth sense? There are no reports of them being dead.

When Cyclone Tracey hit Australia's Northern Capital, Darwin in 1974 there were no dead giraffes, lions or bears, so maybe they also have this sixth sense.

Actually, now that I think of it, we humans also have this same sixth sense. Back in 1994, when the Shoemaker-Levy Comet 9 slammed into Jupiter, us humans managed to avoid the place and not a single death was recorded.

Back in the land of reality, authorities are dealing with a death toll in excess of 100,000 and likely to grow significantly higher. There is a concerted effort to bring medical attention to the injured, to provide clean water & food and to prevent diseases from taking even more lives. This leads to the following questions:

Who says there are no dead animals? I'm sure authorities are more concerned caring for the sick and injured people than looking for dead animals. As time goes by, I'm sure there will be reports of dead animals that were considered not important enough at the time when the focus was on the human toll.

Most of the attention has been in the well populated areas. These are also the areas where the amount of wildlife is small. As I said before, how many elephants do you see frolicking on the resort beaches or city streets?

The number of missing people is enormous. Many were swept out into the ocean and the bodies will never be recovered. Could not the same have occurred with the animals?

If you were starving with no food supply, would you help yourself to some meat from a dead animal? Hunger makes great seasoning.

This type of reporting is sloppy journalism and shows that people will believe something without stopping to think logically about the belief they have formed. Can animals sense impending danger from natural disasters? While the belief has been around for centuries, there is little evidence to support it.

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The presence of belief, does not indicate the existence of truth."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Clever Cat

The Pennsylvania Attorney General (AG) pulled off a sting that exposed a diploma mill being run in Texas.

While students struggle for years to complete a real degree, the Trinity Southern University was handing them out to anyone who could come up with their asking price. When they issued a Bachelors degree in Business Administration to a cat that was owned by one of the AG's staff members, the AG had the evidence to sue the university's owners.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. People exposing the fraud within the education system have arranged to have degrees, diplomas and doctorates for all sorts of animals in order to show up these scams. Membership to various organisations is also dependent solely on paying the membership fees.

Be wary of letters that follow a name and what memberships are claimed by someone claiming to be an expert, they may turn out to mean nothing at all. Also check to see if the qualifications are applicable to the subject where the expertise is claimed. I found that a "Dr." who was trying to convince me about the effectiveness of homeopathy was not a medical doctor, but had a PhD studying discrimination within the disabled community.

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The presence of belief, does not indicate the existence of truth."

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Critical Thinking for young children

Critical Thinking is a useful tool to avoid being fooled by the various hoaxes, conspiracy theories and scams that plague our world.

While discussing why some doctors turn their back on proven scientific medicine to practice methods that have no scientific basis, Dr Harriet Hall posted the following:

"I think the ultimate solution is to teach critical thinking to children from an early age, and to make them aware of how human psychology can lead us into error. Science education "about" science doesn't do much good by itself. We need to challenge students to "think" scientifically by figuring out how they could test a hypothesis and by figuring out what could go wrong and how to rule out alternative explanations for results. We should be teaching them about how experiments have gone awry (N-rays, cold fusion, etc.) and how to distinguish good science from pseudoscience."

Dr. Hall has hit the nail on the head.

It is not as hard as you would think to teach critical thinking to young children. I found that I have been doing this for the last 18 months or so with my own child without realising it.

I will post some suggested activities that you can do with your children to help them learn to think for themselves and to help them become better and more critical thinkers. This does not mean destroying their childhood or imagination.

Psychic Powers?

With Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon and Neopet cards being all the rage, many young children will have these cards at home. Take the time to find out what their favourite card is. Usually Dark Magician for Yu-Gi-Oh cards and Pikachu for Pokemon cards.

The cards will likely be well used and severely marked. Note the scratches and other markings on the back of your child's favourite and then show your "magic" skills by picking that card when placed face down among others.

Do this a couple of times to show it's not pure luck, but you know which card it is. Ask your child to do the same. If they cannot pick the right card every time, show them what the trick is. Explain that it's not "magic", but simply a trick.

Discuss with them that other people called "Psychics" will claim that they can do the same using "magic" or "Psychic power". It will not take them long to grasp the concept that psychics have no power, but just know how to do "tricks".

A small step for a child, but it is a start to placing them on the road to learning to think critically.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Dish

One of my favourite movies, The Dish, by working dog productions, screened on Friday night.

When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, one of the main telescopes used was at Parkes in NSW, Australia. Set in the middle of a sheep paddock, the dish played an intergral part in allowing people around the world to witness the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon.

Or did they? A quick google search for "moon walk hoax" shows that there are many deluded conspiracy theorists who believe the whole thing was a fake. The pictures we saw were not from the moon, but from a movie studio.

I have had one person try and convince me that the photos were all fake. They claim that the shadows are wrong, the background is the same in all shots, the flag moved in the "wind" and other facts that "prove" the moon walk never happened.

Ian Goddard shows on his web-site how the so-called anomolies can be recreated. The moon has no atmosphere, so the sunlight is much stronger, as is the reflection of the sunlight from the moon's surface.

Why do some objects, in shadow appear to be lit from another source? Because the light reflects back off the moon surface. Why do cross-hairs vanish on some photos? Because these are white objects and the strong reflection causes "wash out" that can even be shown on the Earth with much duller light. Why do shadown appear to travel in different directions? Because shadows look different when they are on uneven or sloping surfaces.

Take a look at some of the photos and their explanation and then do your own experiments. Can you make shadows look like they are from different directions? I have tried this. It works!

Another good explanation of other factors providing evidence that we did walk on the moon can be found on the moon hoax site. This is a much more detailed site that covers things such as why we don't just get a telescope to show the lunar lander on the moon, explains how the moon dust shows that there was no atmosphere and many other logical, scientific explanations for things that conspiracy theorists claim are proof that the moon landing was a hoax.

The problem is that even if we could show the LEM sitting on the moon, the copnsiracy theorists would then claim that those pictures are fake as well. If we were able to fly them to the moon and show them the LEM, they would claim that it had only been placed there recently and was not from 1969.

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The presence of belief, does not indicate the existence of truth."

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Mobile Madness

I was filling the car with petrol today when my mobile phone rang. This is actually a rare event for me. My mobile phone can go for weeks without being used once. It's basically there for emergencies only.

I figured this was a fairly important call so with one hand on the pump, I answered the phone. This prompted other motorists to call out at me and point to the signs indicating that mobile phones were not to be used at the pumps.

Yes, believe it or not, in Australia the oil companies have been fooled by the internet hoax and have put up "no mobile phone" signs at petrol stations across the nation. We have all heard the story that fires in petrol stations have been started by mobile phones. But where?

This is where the problem arises. There have been several groups that have investigated this urban legend such as
Australia's ABC television, Discovery Channel Myth Busters and the internet based SNOPES.

So, what do you do in this situation? I just smiled and waved at the people and continued my phone call. When I got inside to pay for the fuel, the following conversation took place.

Register Attendant (RA): "Don't you realise how dangerous it is to be on the phone when filling up your car?"

Me: Why? What's so dangerous about it?

AR: "It could create a spark and make the petrol vapours explode in flames"

Me: "That's an old internet hoax. It has been researched through fire brigade and police records all over the world and there has not been one confirmed report of a mobile phone starting a fire."

AR: "You're kidding!"

Me: "I kid you not. It's a hoax, it's been investigated and no records of any fire exist. Give me your e-mail address and I will send you a copy of the details."

There have been newspaper reports that blame mobile phones for a petrol station fires, but the investigations later clear the phone as the ignition source.

Mobile phones and petrol stations do mix. So next time you're at the petrol pump and your mobile phone starts ringing, don't panic. It is safe to answer the call.