Did you know the word ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary?

I first read this post by Scott Adams:

Quantifying Gullibility

Which lead me to read the article he referenced:

Research Pinpoints Brain’s ‘Gullibility’ Center
Changes in this region could explain why seniors, children are less doubting

I admit that I felt like I was going to be fed a line, but both articles appear to be serious and not some sort of April Fools joke. The idea that people become more gullible as they get older jives with my experiences. I felt my father got very credulous as he got older and we had some rather intense discussions (or arguments, depending on your point of view) on some stuff he really seemed to want me to believe (check out Zecharia Sitchin for just one instance). I have other relatives, who shall remain nameless, whose behavior echos one of Scott’s commenters:

I’ve observed the same thing. I had chalked it up to confirmation bias rather than simple gullibility, but maybe this is a better explanation. I have a father-in-law who used to be an engineer with the military. A brilliant guy by any intelligence test you might care to use. But he now believes, and shares, every single anti-Obama story he hears, no questions asked, no sources checked. The absolute worst incident came a few months ago when he shared a satirical story about Obama supposedly being foreclosed upon. The story itself, in my opinion, was hilarious. Except that my father in law didn’t get the joke, and shared it with his Facebook page as further evidence of just how dumb and irresponsible Obama is. It’s gotten to the point where I’m genuinely embarrassed by a man I used to have nothing but respect for.

I recall being quite credulous as a youth and having a very strong belief in UFOs, but as I got older and more objectively evaluated the so-called evidence it became increasingly clear to me that there was no ‘there’ there. I admit, though, to holding out hope for Sasquatch, but faith is sometimes hard to cling to. I do worry a bit, though, that I might follow in my father’s footsteps and get more credulous (that does sound more polite than gullible, doesn’t it?) as I get older. He was a rather grouchy bear as I grew up, so we really didn’t have much in the way of conversation until he retired, so I really don’t know what he was like when he was younger, so maybe he started off from a more credulous location.

Like one of the commenters, I wonder if there could be any treatment developed. I wonder, though, if people would want to give up their gullibility. I can imagine it is a warm safe place where evidence that contradicts your thoughts is simply ignored. Certainly a much simpler place to be, if more dangerous (no amount of wishful thinking will keep a truck from mowing you down if you wander onto a busy road).

Cynic is as cynic does

Correspondence and collusion between the New York Times and the CIA
Mark Mazzetti’s emails with the CIA expose the degradation of journalism that has lost the imperative to be a check to power

This an interesting article, as most of Glenn’s are, but that really isn’t what prompted me to blog on it. Rather it was this paragraph…

The more important objection is that the fact that a certain behavior is common does not negate its being corrupt. Indeed, as is true for government abuses generally, those in power rely on the willingness of citizens to be trained to view corrupt acts as so common that they become inured, numb, to its wrongfulness. Once a corrupt practice is sufficiently perceived as commonplace, then it is transformed in people’s minds from something objectionable into something acceptable. Indeed, many people believe it demonstrates their worldly sophistication to express indifference toward bad behavior by powerful actors on the ground that it is so prevalent. This cynicism – oh, don’t be naive: this is done all the time – is precisely what enables such destructive behavior to thrive unchallenged.

It relates to a comment yesterday by DaWei yesterday:

Frankly, choosing Obama suggests that you have given up, totally, on ever becoming anything at all, however badly the odds are stacked against you…

I see more than a little bit of ‘given up, totally’ in me, as I am sure my reader(s) have, and I feel in large part it is because of stuff like Glenn’s column and what I feel is the entirely pointless act of voting. I would like to feel there is some way to reverse the tide (though, if really a ‘tide’, then one must presume it will ebb at some point), but am really struggling with ways of doing so. I recall reading once somewhere a line describing a cynic as an optimist that had been disappointed too many times. Perhaps that is the case with me. I would love to hear ideas to combat our decaying society, though a bit of the historian in me tries to shout that for most of our nation’s history our government has been at least as corrupt and dirty as it is today, yet most of the time it functions well. Perhaps as a long-run sort of thing, but I recall reading about how bad things got during the depression, in particular, how the depression didn’t really start until many years after the crash when very ill advised decisions were made by our government beholden to the monied special interests. If any of that sounds familiar (I trust it does), then we are looking at the likely prospects of getting to repeat that all over again. As I recall, it took WWII to get our economy out of the dumps from the great depression and the major reason our country had such a long expansion after WWII was because we had bombed the hell out of our manufacturing competitors, thus enjoyed a monopoly for a while.

I just can’t shake the conviction that things are vastly more likely to get worse before there is any chance of things getting better. I sure would like to be wrong! I am happy with being a silly idiot worrying that the sky is falling; please let it be so…

For those still supporting Romney…

Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital
How the GOP presidential candidate and his private equity firm staged an epic wealth grab, destroyed jobs – and stuck others with the bill

Much as I detest Obama, Romney is way worse than the evil bastard we have in office now. Read this article (yes it is long, but then, dammit, he is currently 50% likely to be our next President, so take the time!) and think about what it would mean to have this man at the top of our political hierarchy. Here is just one notable quote:

Thanks to the tax deduction, in other words, the government actually incentivizes the kind of leverage-based takeovers that Romney built his fortune on. Romney the businessman built his career on two things that Romney the candidate decries: massive debt and dumb federal giveaways. “I don’t know what Romney would be doing but for debt and its tax-advantaged position in the tax code,” says a prominent Wall Street lawyer, “but he wouldn’t be fabulously wealthy.”

Vote Obama: at least he gives you lube when he fucks you!

It is amazing how much science already knows, if it just had the wit to search for it

I started reading this Cracked article:

The 6 Cruelest Science Experiments Ever (Were Done on Kids)

The first entry, “#6. Put Kids in the Wilderness, Make Them Go to War” was interesting enough for me to click on the link to the source (http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/09/war-peace-and-role-of-power-in-sherifs.php). While the Cracked article is interesting, the PsyBlog article is even more so. As the PsyBlog article states, the three versions of the experiment produced three radically different results (which tells me that the experiment is pointless), but discussion surrounding the results is most instructive if you draw parallels to the US government’s endless meddling in international affairs. I don’t think my reader(s) need (or would appreciate) a dissertation on why I think the three experiments on children are so relevant to the US’s behavior to its fellow governments, so I will just suggest they take the time and read at least the first Cracked bit and the PsyBlog article.

It is more than a million, of that I am sure!

How Can One Million People Be This Dumb?

I have been exposed to the MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) industry for most of my life. My parents were quite into various such organizations over the years and I admit to trying my hand a time or twain. In principle it is not a bad thing and legitimate businesses (Amway, for example) are sustainable. To me the major caveat is that it boils down to your sales ability: how good are you at convincing people to buy something from you? If you are good at that then I suggest you can make much better incomes by moving into grander sales environments. If you are not so good, you won’t make much in the way of money and your equivalent hourly rate for the effort you put in will be well below any alternative available to you. It is a great scheme for the company doing the marketing, they get a huge sales force that they pay commission only. The biggest danger is that it is a hugely faith-based approach and if you damage the faith your sales force has in your company or your products then you can be out of business practically overnight.

MLMs (and Ponzi schemes, the difference basically boils down to: can you make more than the person who recruited you, if so, it is an MLM, if not, then Ponzi (and thus illegal)) tend to grow very quickly in the beginning and I have seen quite a few people who make it their mission in life to promote each new MLM to the people in their previous organizations and create, at least for a few months, the Ponzi equivalent. Thus, the Johnny-come-latelys get in just as the growth of the organization plateaus and as a consequence find it nearly impossible to make any significant money (significant, to me, is always measured against your alternatives; if you can make more flipping burgers than you can pushing your wares, then you are wasting your time and money). The ‘smart’ ones keep pushing the new latest thing on their organization and it seems to me that the average person who gets hooked will sign on for several such rounds because they can see the results of success so close (in the person who serially recruits them).

Of course, the person attracted to the MLM/Ponzi to begin with tends to be the person who eagerly seeks the magic bullet that will allow them to achieve wealth without effort (surely this attitude isn’t unique to America, but it seems like it was patented and perfected here). Nothing is free, either you need money and connections (something that requires being born to the right parents), money, connections and huge amount of luck (something that generally also requires the right parents), extensive perspiration, money, connections and huge luck (something that increasingly needs the right parents, but a generation ago was realistic), or win the lotto (but ya gotta play to win). However, people seem very eager to continually believe that they can get something for (next to) nothing without any consideration for what that means. If there is some resource that is available for next to no cost (say, breathable air), then it tends to have next to no value because why pay for something essentially free? In order for anything to be of value there must be some barrier to obtaining the resource and that barrier must be such that someone on the other side will pay to bypass the barrier (too bad you can’t somehow pick your parents!). Ironically, to me, the barriers to knowledge acquisition has dropped so much with the advent of the Internet that I would have thought every one would know everything about everything, but it seems that the desire to know something is not the same as engaging in the effort (no matter how trivial) to obtain it. Of course, along with our anti-science bias it seems we are developing an anti-knowledge bias as well and people are even more likely to believe in something like these Ponzi schemes.

You know it is bad…

When the Economist doesn’t support the GOP candidate:

So, Mitt, what do you really believe?
Too much about the Republican candidate for the presidency is far too mysterious

Nothing shockingly new here, except for the source. Seeing something like this on Mother Jones or Salon wouldn’t even be worth a comment, but the Economist?

Still, there is a whole lot of money behind Romney and with past elections as gauge, whomsoever spends the most wins the office and in any case, the vast majority of Presidential elections are decided by the economy and nothing else.

Well said…

Too bad there is no chance in hell of it being implemented…

How To Fix The Economy… In One Simple Chart

This is a fairly short document (and has lots of graphs), I so strongly encourage my reader(s) to take a look. While I pretty much agree with everything in the article, the realist (pessimist?) in me has to snort “Fat Chance!”.

A different take on the power of the elite

The closing of American academia
The plight of adjunct professors highlights the end of higher education as a means to prosperity.

Just like there is the GOP complaint toward the Democrats (and Beatles refrain) “tax the rich until there are no more rich”, here we have a case where we jack up the cost and cut back the compensation of education so far that the only people who can now afford to get degrees and then teach are the monied class. The GOP likes to babble that the liberals have flooded the education system and are teaching their children nothing but nonsense, but imagine, if you will, where the only place to get an education is one designed so you can only get knowledge approved by the elite oligarchy. Talk about pouring cement around our nascent feudal system!

Oh well, it isn’t like there is any single thing wrong with our society, it is all symptoms of the same thing feeding back on itself. I was thinking just yesterday that had I been mentored at some point and not been left to fend for myself I almost certainly would have slipped into the elite class (and mindset) without any conscious thought. Not that that realization means dick since my capacity to influence events at this point is so close to zero that it is indistinguishable.

Data porn

Making Data Work
Researchers pursue analogy between statistical evidence and thermodynamics

I am far, far from schooled in statistics. The one class in my MBA program and much of the lecture sounded like static and jumbled words. However, one thing I did get out of the class was the incredible fact that the vast majority of experimental results are based on false statistical relevance and the vast majority of people reporting these results incorrectly are totally unaware that they are, in effect, lying. Looking back over many of the experiments I did in the lab I was able to conclude that the magnitude of the differences between the test group and the control group were such that I was comfortable that my conclusions were correct, but I wasn’t able to do that in all cases. Lies, damn lies and statistics and people wield statistics with abandon. As I discussed earlier regarding radiation, it is very simple to make an assumption and produce ‘statistically significant’ data to support your assumption. It could be as trivial as selection bias where the researcher unknowingly ignores data that conflict with his or her assumption. When stated to baldly one would be pardoned if one were to think that all scientists are frauds, but designing experiments to produce useful data is a challenging thing and something that is (at least in my experience) not taught but is learned through mentoring. Sometimes until one has performed a certain number of inconclusive experiments one simply lacks enough information to design an appropriate experiment. Unfortunately, sometimes deadlines refuse to leave enough time for people to be wrong enough to learn to be right and publish what is really bogus results in desperation. Once a certain critical mass of this has become mainstream then the entire mentoring system has been contaminated by people who have been poorly mentored, yet are now mentoring themselves.

I really like the approach the target of the article is taking, but I am not sure that it really will lead to the rigor we need. Thermodynamics are based on huge numbers of individual entities (billions on up), so any measurements are based on large averages. Indeed, lots of interesting science has been recently discovered because of the often dramatic change in behavior when you go from the macro to the micro scale. Since most scientific data is at the micro scale, it seems very plausible to me that making conclusions can be incredibly challenging unless you have a huge signal-to-noise ratio (in many of the experiments I did I measured radioactivity so literally I was looking at signal compared to background; I tended to throw out my stock compounds when the signal dropped to less than 10x background because the results would start to get too noisy).

People who engage in experimental research should be required to take at least a years of statistics and should be required to take courses on experimental design. I am sure that would drive out a lot of students, but I am not sure that a lot of the ‘data’ that has been collected over the last few decades is worth the resources spent on it, so the world might not lose anything if these people turn away from science.

I wonder if non-science people (members of the sheeple class) can feel these statistical lies at an unconscious level. It might help explain the rampant anti-science attitude that is permeating our society today.