Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The God of the Gaps

The 'god of the gaps', is a term used by Atheists to describe a god, who in the mind of the believer, is compatible with science. These people are just one step away from being rational thinkers, and ultimately, Atheists.

The 'god of the gaps' in its essence can be summarized as - "we don't know, therefore it must be god".
Some examples are:
- "Science is unsure how the universe started, therefore it must be god".
- "Evolution can't be proved, therefore god must have created man".
This type of thought, while illogical and wrong, is not the worst of it.
Sometimes, the 'god of the gaps' extends to people's own knowledge:
- "I am unsure how evolution works, therefore it must be wrong and god is the creator"
- "I am unsure about radiometric dating works and it's accuracy, therefore it is unreliable and can't be used as evidence"

This kind of thinking is not only stupid, but dangerous. As a society, if we allow people to justify their beliefs for god and actions based on faulty logic and misinterpreted evidence, this foolish way of thinking can creep into other aspects of life.

The first group of people are quite close to being rational thinkers. All they have to say is "science doesn't know, but I have faith they will figure it out, based on the fact they have a pretty good track record at figuring stuff out."

The second group are a few more steps away. These people are actually unaware that what they're saying is illogical. They really think that what they're saying is a legitimate justification for their belief. The problem with this group of people, fundamentally, is that they don't understand logic. Imagine, just for a moment, that you didn't intuitively understand logic (it's hard right). You wouldn't see the difference between the two arguments, and you wouldn't be able to understand any rebuttal.

I think that a good starting place for these sorts of people would be metaphor, and patience, lots and lots of fucking patience. Very simple metaphors, perhaps taking two or three steps to get to the final argument, when said without attitude or judgement, can be quite effective at communicating with these people.

The god of the gaps is an elusive fucker. God changes with every scientific revision. Soon, or at some point in the future, there will be no more gaps for God to hide in. I hope I'm still here to see that day.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The "Fat" Stigma

The overpowering need for political correctness in society is a laborious  strain on expression and limits what people feel comfortable discussing. There is a social stigma around the descriptive word "fat" that is illogical.

There is no logical reason why people should be offended, or afraid to use the word "fat". It alone is not a derogatory word. It can be used to insinuate unattractiveness, however this assumption is on the part of the listener.

Society has given the word "fat" negative connotations, and while it is associated with an increased risk of a number of medical conditions, this doesn't seem to justify the stigma associated with it.

The condition of being fat, in most cases, is the result of eating too many calories and not getting enough exercise (thus, burning off calories); this is a simple fact. Thus, it is the person's own fault, and a result of their own decisions that they are in the condition they are in. Even in the rare circumstance that the obesity is caused by a legitimate medical condition, this doesn't nullify it's use to describe someone.

In general, people need to stop being so easily offended. Getting upset because someone used a descriptive word to describe a personal trait you don't like, is an issue on your part.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Addiction is Not a Disease

"Addiction is a disease" is a cop out uneducated people use to negate the responsibility of having made stupid decisions.
It softens the blow, it makes people sympathetic to those who did make stupid decisions by delegating responsibility to a factor out of their control.

This is an unpopular stance to take, because it seems mean and unsympathetic. Partially it is, but that doesn't make it any less true.

An addiction is a group of behaviors,  not a disease. It seems like a disease because it is often symbolized as an activity which if continued, would lead to a decreasing quality of life, like a disease. However that's not how we classify diseases. A disease has a pathological biological process, addiction does not.

If you don't think about it very hard, it seems like addiction to cigarettes is a disease, but it's not. The pathological process that causes (for example) cancer, originates as a result of exposure to the chemicals in cigarettes, not from the addiction itself.
"But you wouldn't be exposed to the chemicals if you weren't addicted" - a non sequitur. The chemicals cause the cancer; addiction is the behavior of needing to smoke.

Also, just because it is hard to stop, it does not make it a disease. The very fact that it can be stopped with strong will power and nothing more, leads to show it is not a disease. You can't stop bronchitis or chlamydiae with strong will power, they are real diseases.

Again, "Addiction is a disease" seems unsympathetic, but alone it's not. It just calls for accepting responsibility for your own actions. If you're addicted to food and you get fat, that is your fault, you should have the will power to be able to stop yourself from eating, and you need to take responsibility for fixing the problem. This doesn't exclude the people around you from being supportive and helping you however.

Take responsibility for your own actions, have the willpower to not become 'addicted', because addiction is not a disease.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Everyone's Opinion is not Valid

Everyone's heard the phrase "I'm entitled to my opinion", some of you may have even said it. But guess what, you're fucking not. Not always.

Every good intentioned human being will claim they make their life decisions based on reasons, as they all should. You stop at red lights because you know it would be dangerous not to. You don't send the Prince of Nigeria your banking information, because you can figure out it's probably a scam. However many people act everyday according to beliefs that they can't defend, and further more, don't know why they believe in the first place. Worse, some people preach and tell others about their beliefs, while not being able to back them up with evidence.

If someone challenges one of these beliefs in the course of a discussion, they can be met with "Everyone is entitled to their opinion", which stops the discussion dead, and creates a social environment where it is rude to continue to challenge these beliefs. Instead, use of the phrase "Everyone is entitled to their opinion" should be met with roaring laughter and ridicule at the ignorance of the user of the phrase.

Everyone has the right to say and to think whatever they want, but it does not mean anyone has to listen, and those who do listen to opinions of the ignorant, are fools.
An example of this: an economic convention, where the worlds top economists have been invited to speak about economic theory. If a man sitting in the audience, with no economic training whatsoever, stats up and says "I don't like this theory of supply and demand, I don't understand it and therefore it's not possible, it doesn't resonate well with me". That man will be laughed at, and dismissed without question that his factual claim is untrue and invalid.

However another example: Scientists discussing the theory of evolution and natural selection, receive comments from people with no scientific training, saying things like "no, it's not possible it all happened by random chance, look how complicated the eye is, it could not just have happened without intervention from god.". The scientists laugh at this notion, they have studied for years in this area, and can all postulate quite specifically how it happened, and they pity the man for his obvious lack of education on the subject. It's not his fault, we don't all have time to become experts in the field of genetics and evolutionary biology.

The problem comes when this man preaches his beliefs to his friends, family, and anyone who will listen. They also, are not geneticists or evolutionary biologists, and develop this (untrue) belief about evolution.

But what is the problem? They don't effect anyone by believing this. Wrong.
If they teach their children, their friends, this untrue belief, it creates a distrust for scientists. It leads to assumptions about other people who believe the opposite, a politician for example who believes strongly in evolution, will be assumed to be wrong by those with the untrue belief. The child taught that evolution is a myth, is one less child that might grow up to love science, and make breakthroughs that improve the quality of life for people.

Holding untrue beliefs is a problem. Believing things without proof is a problem, you wouldn't go to a mechanic for that lump growing on your neck, you go to a doctor. You wouldn't get the opinion of an architect before you appear before a judge and jury, you go to a lawyer. So don't go to a priest, or some random person on the internet for information about science. Not everyone's opinion is valid all of the time.

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Taboo Around Criticizing Religion

religion, litter, bin, symbols, god, atheistIn the present day there seems to still be groups of people, whether religious extremists, moderates, or non religious, that believe it is inappropriate or offensive to criticize religion. This is Bullshit.
I am not talking about hate speech, or discrimination, I am talking about criticism. Logic based, rational criticism against the dogma of religion. Every other area of study, every other human belief is applicable for criticism, except for religious beliefs.
This wall of sensitivity and capricious offence-taking is slowly coming down, as more and more people realize the non sequitur of the argument held by the ignorant. However rational thinking needs to take over completely here, to be sure we treat all ideas and beliefs fairly, and not discriminate against the rest.
Religion, is a claim to truth. It has claims to truths about the creation of the earth, about history, about absolute morality, about the existence of a divine entity. These claims to truth should be able to be subjected  to the same tests and criticism as truths claimed by economists, politicians, judges and juries, and by scientists, without causing a reflexive reaction of sensitivity and offence.
In summary, stop being so fucking sensitive. Wake up and realize nothing offensive is going on here, only fairness and equity. Don't be afraid to discuss your opinion, and give criticism where criticism is due.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

How to solve the problem of placebos

Right now, the problem is placebos are considered unethical, but the overall aim of medicine is to improve the quality of life in regards to physical health. These are at times in direct conflict with each other. Below I will argue why and under what circumstances placebos should and shouldn't be used.

There is a large debate at the moment amongst the medical industry about the use of placebos . At the moment, use of placebos (whether in the form of sham surgery, inert medication, or false information) is considered unethical and bad practice.

This assertion is based on the current principals of practice which include a patient oriented autonomy method of decision making, where the patient is presented with facts about options' risks and benefits, and the patient makes a decision. This required informed consent, thus, it is unethical to deceive the patient, as required for effective placebo treatment.

Now I do not advocate rampant placebo use by medical practitioners, below is a simple list of other reasons why placebo use is unethical. However I postulate that a set of guidelines can be developed to direct the use of placebo use by medical professionals under certain circumstances. At the end of this article, I will create a rudimentary set of guidelines as a starting point for debate.

Why placebos are unethical:
1) The use of placebos requires the patient to be deceived, which is incompatible with the practice of informed consent.
2) The chance of being given a placebo may cause patients to not trust medical practitioners, and to seek alternative therapies for serious impairments (which is ironic, because "alternative therapies" rely almost exclusively on the placebo effect).
3) Real treatments have predicted success rates depending on the patients diagnosis, placebos do not, thus false hope could lead a patient to make life decisions based on the predicted outcome of his treatment, which is an untruth.
4) They take resources and funding away from developing actual treatments for pathologies.
5) They cost the government or taxpayer money for a treatment which is known to be inert.

Taking these into account, some guidelines could be developed which allow for the use of prescribed known placebos to patients. The only additional requirement would be that it become common practice in society to the point where it is accepted as "just the way it is" and not thought about.

Guidelines for ethical placebo use:

1) Only qualified medical practitioners prescribe them. They are government controlled, and they are kept separate from the world of "alternative medicine".
2) All other legitimate options for treatment or cure have been exhausted.
3) The use of a placebo treatment does not interfere with or prevent the use of legitimate treatment.
4) The placebo treatment is less expensive than a legitimate treatment for the same pathology.
5) The claims of the efficacy of the placebo are not such that the patient would be further disappointed/ disadvantaged should the placebo treatment not work.
6) Special additional training be given to practicing practitioners and/or training be included in the basic medical degree, before the use of placebo treatments is allowed.
7) Placebo treatments be researched as legitimate options to improve quality of life, before government authorization.

There are still many further issues for this topic, but I hope this can be an acceptable starting point for further discussion.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Correlation is not causation

It's a simple fact, correlation does not equal causation, and unfortunately one that a majority of the population doesn't know, or at least forgets whenever it's important.

What does this mean? Simply that just because there is a positive trend between two variables, it does not imply that one causes the other.

Lisa Simpson put it best here (At 4:14)
In case you don't feel like watching The Simpsons (there must be something wrong with you), a transcript of the scene is below.

Later, a full-force Bear Patrol is on watch.  Homer watches proudly.
Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a
Lisa: That's spacious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
[Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]

What one must do to simply dispel this argument, is see how likely the situation is anyway. Using Lisa's example, the chance of a tiger being present on Evergreen tce is quite small, thus, more likely than not, there would not be a tiger present with or without the use of the magic rock.
Of course in this case, it is simple to see the rock has no effect because of the very absurdity of the proposition.

However sometimes it is not so simple to see the logical fallacies, especially if they are covered up with a mirage of scientific sounding (although unsubstantiated) claims.

Homeopathy, reflexology, and almost all forms of  "alternative medicine" succumb to this fallacy. Even the hypothesis of 'global warming caused by human actions', has arguments made in its favor that are completely based on logic which follows that a correlation equals causation.

With homeopathy, reflexology etc, there are other factors at work (such as the placebo effect) that yield positive results. This would show a correlation between the alternative therapy and patient outcome, but not indicate that it is the actual therapy which is leading to the positive trend. An explanation for the positive trend would be that patients think that is is going to work, and because of the placebo effect, the patients think that they are healing, and thus report positive results.

The way to prove if a treatment is legitimate is to examine scientifically, the theory behind the mechanism that the therapy is based on. For example, in homeopathy, that water has a memory, and this memory can be used to turn water into medicine. This claim has to be examined scientifically to prove or disprove the theory.

For the record, homeopathy is bullshit. There have been no robust scientific studies ever conducted ever that show homeopathy to have any legitimate scientific basis.

However, other studies have been conducted that show people (on average) treated with homeopathic remedies have more positive outcomes than those not treated at all.
This is why people are tricked. The above claim seems to show that homeopathy works, but it does not show this. 
When the same studies are conducted comparing homeopathic remedies to placebos (in a blind test, where the subjects do not know if they are receiving the homeopathic remedy or the placebo), there is no difference (on average) between the two groups.

So remember, when you see an explanation for something, stop and think. Is this a legitimate explanation, or am I just being shown a trend, and being told that because they correlate, one is causing the other.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

How to make your brain work for you..

..and how to stop it from tricking you.

We've all been in that situation where we need a new mobile phone, and suddenly mobile phone advertisements appear everywhere. Or we're thinking about buying that new Suzuki swift, and suddenly there are hundreds of people driving them.

The part of the brain that is responsible for this phenomenon is called the Reticular Activating System. One of its functions is to filter all the information we receive from our senses, and brings that which is most relevant to our conscious attention.
Yes there actually is a scientific explanation for "The Secret".

This is why goal setting works. If you make a conscious effort to articulate very precisely what you want, your Reticular Activating System will bring to your attention all things relevant to that goal, opening up opportunities.

This is also a component of hypochondria. People become acutely aware of any afflictions that other people would not take seriously or even notice, and associate it to an illness, because that's what is on their mind.

It is also how people think they experience the supernatural or the divine. Their Reticular Activating System makes them aware of anything "abnormal" (or in science words, statistically unlikely), and the person becomes consciously aware of it, and they associate it with a "divine" or "supernatural" experience.

Of course, common sense dictates that events similar in nature occurred in the past, but were not brought to conscious attention, or were not associated with the subject apparent on the mind of the individual.

The more we learn about our brains, the more we can understand our experiences, which can lead to a better understanding of reality. So, be aware of what your brain is doing, you might just notice something you never have before.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Swear words

Seriously, the idea of someone being offended by a sound emanating from the mouth of another human being, irrespective of context, is fucking bullshit.

Don't get me wrong, calling someone a cunt, not nice. Saying your boss is a fucking asswipe, probably not the best idea in the world. Saying you would like to "fuck that chick so hard" to a mate over a drink at the pub; it makes sense if people take offence to this, and this should be societally unacceptable. But offence caused by referring to a favourable situation as "fucking awesome", or the exclamation "shit yes" at the idea of a $2 pint, is ludicrous and illogical.

To anyone not agreeing with my assertion so far, let me explain how the younger generation has always seen the issue of swear words.
Swear words are the exclamation points of the younger generation. They are used as filler words, and to add emotion to a statement.
There is a disassociation forming between the word "fuck" and the image of the act of engaging in sexual intercourse. The meaning of this word is changing to simply "!". This disassociation is the primary reason the younger generation doesn't not take offence from these words.

The only reason conceivable that some words would be offensive is that what their refer to is vulgar and not for public discussion (fuck meaning sex, and sex is taboo for discussion in public (although that's bullshit too)).
However when examined more closely, this idea falls apart. Someone shouting "faeces!" as they stub their toe might be a bit weird, but far less people are offended compared to him shouting "shit!" at the same situation.
So it's not the content that people find offensive.

Simply, people are unaware of why this causes offence. It's something they've never really thought about before, swear words just "are", they don't have logical justification for emotional reaction. They were taught by their parents and teachers they were bad words, with no explanation and a scolding punishment for disobedience. Thus, it is a reflexive emotional response with no logical basis to condemn these words.

I don't know about you, but I like to live in a society where people and governments make decisions for logical reasons.

Now, remember, using curse words, or any words, to degrade another human being is not acceptable, but that's not what this article is about. I hope I've made the difference clear.

Why America went to Iraq

Anyone who believes oil was not a motivating factor for the US invasion of Iraq under the Bush administration is delusional.

Why did the US go to war? Saddam Hussein might have WMD's. An "unstable socialist tyrant" might possess weapons of mass destruction, be destabilising the region, and committing atrocities against the people of his nation.
... Turns out he didn't have WMD's... Oh well.

So why hasn't North Korea been invaded yet? (this still might happen, so keep your eyes up). A definitely unstable dictator who DEFINITELY does have WMD's, committing atrocities against his people.

But I get it, America, the UK, or any other country for that matter, doesn't have the right to police the world. Well.. As long as there is no oil involved.
Valuable oil resources present which would threaten to ruin the economy? Police the fuck out of that region.
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