Monday, 29 August 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 22-28/8/16

Hiya baby doll,

Whatcha doing? Encouraging me to get pregnant? OK then, maybe i will.

'Baby doll simulators may actually increase teen pregnancy rates'

{Bazian notes that the Daily Fail's good reporting of this study is "let down" by their article being an advert for a USAian company that sells "virtual infants"}

The first question to ask, here, is "how does the Ocean Dilemma come into play?" as the observed correlation could be spurious. Even if the control and test groups were defined fairly, chance could still present an illusory correlation.

Epidemiological advice is generally that the most effective methods of preventing teenage pregnancy are: access to non-prejudicial relationship advice; and access to cheap, reliable pre- and post-ferilisation contraception.

Well, actually, the study this claim's based on was an RCT (a randomised controlled trial) so various sources of bias in the data were eliminated. This, however, doesn't include blinding, as the participants had to know which group they were in. Well, surely you'd notice if you were holding a screaming doll, as well as getting basic sex-ed?!

The most important data, from this well-conducted study, is that 17% of girls in the test group (subjected to the baby) got pregnant at least once, compared to 11% in the control groug (that got basic advice) and 8% in the test group gave birth, compared to 4% in the control group.

The natural frequency of births was 97 to 67, meaning the 'virtual baby' intervention actually caused 30 extra pregnancies to be brought to term, in a group of ~1500 people!

This means that the intervention that is intended to decrease teenage pregnancy is actually increasing it. The VIP (Virtual Infant Parenting) programme is therefore completely counter-productive.

But i'd like to use this revelation to hammer home the point that "Science without politics is alright, but politics without science is often disastrous"

This is not the only case that is already known about, where a popular heuristic, passed off as 'common sense', has turned out to be 100% wrong.

Another good example, to go with this one, is the case of the 'Scared Straight' programme, which has sought to use prison visitation with 'at risk' youths, to try to discourage them from committing crimes.

'"Scared Straight" programmes'

"How effective is it? Overall, the evidence suggests that the intervention has increased crime"

Following the children who participated in the programme into adult life, made it seem like they were less likely to commit crimes, when compared with other children. But the kids who were put on the programme, were different kids to those who would not have been put on it, because they went to schools that were more obliging. This means that there was substantial bias between the test and control groups.

When randomised trials followed the scheme up, they found that the intervention actually increased crime rates in the test population. But why?

The suggested explanation, is that familiarity with the environment, and an opportunity to realise that prison isn't as bad as in their imagination (nothing's ever as bad as in our imaginations!) made them fear prison less. Being shown around it might also have made prison life feel more real to them, and crucially, more like something in their future, thereby undermining their rejection of crime in another way.

So what was intended to 'scare them straight' actually bent them further out of shape. (I'm sticking with the metaphor, LOL)

And in the case of using baby dolls, to scare adolescents straight, the same is probably also true. Instead of being discouraged by them, they hold the doll, familiarise themselves with the tasks, and begin to realise that actually it's something they can do, and an almost-inevitable part of their future.

So hey, throw those johnnies away, and who wants rug burn first? :-D

Intent is not enough to guarantee that you'll get the right result. The methodology has to be good too. Your brain has to be in the right place, as well as your heart.

Here's an example of what can go wrong if you don't use your brain, and just let your emotions flail, wildly:

'The Vagina Tax' - ShoeOnHead

Prices differ in many ways, to many sub-regions of the world's economy. It's all supply and demand. Sellers will sell at whatever price they think they can get away with. So you're right, Shoe, but you're also wrong.

Sometimes differences in price are actually down to people subconsciously judging something to be worth more, simply because it appears to be honed to them. So by marketing something to make people think it's honed to them, the vendor can get away with a higher price.

It might not be a bespoke suit, but if you can convince them it's 'a bit' bespoke, then you can charge them more than basement prices for it.

Australian satirical customer service programme The Checkout has done videos on this effect, in the case of what they call 'gendered marketing'. They've also shown that one word on the outside, can make something a whole chunk more expensive.

The trouble for feminists is: it drives costs up for everyone, not just for women. And it isn't necessarily sexist. Sometimes it's ageist. The Checkout has a whole series of videos called 'As a guilty mum' on products targetted at children (and sometimes pets) through their parents, and through those parents' beliefs that they have to get their special darlings special products, at especially high prices.

It's actually very interesting, if you're Sociologically inclined, to study adverts from around the world. Especially with multinationals that sell their products, sometimes exactly the same products, in multiple countries, where the peoples are highly divergent.

The branding is essentially the same; but subtle, and sometimes not so subtle (i'm thinking 'elephant in the room' not-so-subtle) changes are made, to ingratiate the potential market.

It would be counter-productive for Coca Cola to have USAians on their adverts in China and India, for example, so they don't. When you watch the ad, you think very little's amiss, but is the drink really any better because Indians drink it, on the ads? No - that's all market manipulation.

Do you think it would work as well if men advertised Tena Lady? With or without wings, women are likely to be more worried by that, than encouraged. Maybe if he had his top off, like in the Diet Coke '11.30 Appointment' and 'Sexy Gardener' adverts :-D

In fact, this form of manipulation goes beyond the world of money... well, kind of.

Religious superstition has evolved to do exactly the same thing. For some strange reason, europeans swear blind that Jesus was a blonde-haired blue-eyed aryan god, just because he was a Nazarene. This makes no sense. Especially given that Nazareth didn't exist when he was born.

What also makes no sense, are the other depictions of him, by oriental people, who depict him with a fu manchu, and african people, who send his skin and hair tones the other way - darker, much darker. And with dreadlocks.

Now, of course we can point and laugh at the unending silliness of religious superstition, but the generic quasi-methods of mind-viruses' propagation are exactly that - generic. Corporats aren't trying to deceive people (necessarily) they're just selfish, cancer-like toads, greedily grasping for more, more, more. And the way that they do that, is a product of memetic evolution of human culture - mostly the mimicry of other people.

This doesn't make it OK, of course. 'Divide and conquer' being a method that helps persuade people to give them more money, doesn't mean it's an OK way to nab people's cash. But it is a method that they use.

So when you're hunting for a product, or maybe just browsing, and you see something with national flags on it, or marketed genderedly, or there's an old/young pale/dark face on the packet, or there's a salesperson hawking it at you...

Then they might be aiming that product at you, to persuade you to overpay for it; or they might be aiming it at someone else... but you'll still be overpaying for it, if you do :-P

'Red Dwarf XI Trailer Launch Tomorrow'

And through the magic of the internet...

'Red Dwarf XI Trailer'

'Red Dwarf XI TV Spot'

I could very easily overpay for a Red Dwarf DVD! Or a Red Dwarf anything, come to that :-D

And the Sydney Telegraph too:

'If you're going to ridicule research, do your homework'

In other news:

Continuing with the subject of memetics, manipulation, and peer pressure, comes this study. It seems that when it comes to peer pressure, the peers don't even have to be real, for the peer-pressure to work. The researchers wanted to see whether fake peer pressure could encourage people to take part in a citizen science project they'd created in 2012, called Brooklyn Atlantis, in which they'd noticed that despite many signatories, most support came from a small proportion of the participants. Nothing odd there. They split their online participants into six groups: one control group, with no AI peer; one with an AI that underperformed the real person; one with an AI that overperformed; one with an AI that matched them; and two with AIs that had unrelated performance. And when they did so, they found that the overperforming fake peer encouraged greater activity the most, the other AIs encouraged it less, and the one with the underperforming peer was the only group that was discouraged.

And now to genetics. They do go both ways, you know. If you judged purely by the number of diseases (plague, HIV, etc) that have been contracted by humans, from other species, you'd think that humans had terrible immune systems and all other species redoubtable ones. But that's not true. Diseases will adapt to new hosts, if it's evolutionarily favourable for them to do so. It's relatively well known that a simple human rhinovirus (the common cold) can kill an orangutan, but it's less well known what diseases our fellow apes are shedding. GALV (gibbon ape leukemia virus) is thought not to have originated in apes itself, but this study has found that rodents from Indonesian New Guinea probably gave the disease to the Asian lar gibbon (Hylobates lar) from which the retroviral pathogen got its name. Those rodents probably also gave koalas KoRV (Koala Retro-Virus) as they were unlikely to get it straight from the gibbons. This might sound scary, but it's actually the key to biodiversity's effect, in protecting us all from diseases. In order to transmit from one species, to another genera, clade, or even family of the taxonomical tree of life, the disease has to adapt, multiple times. The more biologically diverse we are, the more adaptation the disease has to do, thereby limiting its ability to spread.

The Treasury of the USA has pressured the EU to let its money-laundering multinationals go free, with billions of funds, because the Treasury pays those companies money for operating multinationally - they give them rebates for paying tax abroad! That means that the more tax they're compelled to pay, to the benefit of Europeans, the more tax USAian taxpayers might be compelled to pay, in order to subsidise their global magic-money-roundabout. I don't see why any company should be receiving rebates for economic activity in another territory, at all.
But the EU has responded that there is no bias in their tax rules, so USAian companies are not being unfairly targetted. It just so happens that three of the biggest offenders happen to be USA-based. So if you want to unfairly emburden the USA's taxpayers with bills only so that you can pay multi-billion dollar companies huge rebates, for the privilege of being able to avoid paying tax in more than one country, then that's your decision, USAian treasury :-P

WikiLeaks' openness has been the object of a lot of criticism, in recent months, as it's been found by an increasing number of people that the website has been used to publish personal information that could only be used to the detriment of the individuals, rather than (just) to a grand social benefit. But they're not alone in releasing politically useless personal data - the hack of Ashley Madison was entirely to that purpose. Edward Snowden has been quoted as saying "Democratizing information has never been more vital, and Wikileaks has helped. But their hostility to even modest curation is a mistake". But it's important to retain that context. WikiLeaks is revealing personal information along with a treasure trove of incredibly important information, the way the Ashley Madison hack did not. And it's only because WikiLeaks is so open, that we know that they've been collecting personal information. Businesses, through loyalty schemes and subscriptions and things, have been collecting and proliferating personal information about us for decades - they take our details, and then they sell them to other companies, so that those companies can target their products at us. Babyfood, quackery, eye tests, cancer screening, gay cures, etc. Even pharmacies have been doing it, with our medical data. The difference is that they're so secretive about their for-profit dealing in our personal information, that the public finger of disdain doesn't get pointed at them. But it should. WikiLeaks can justify the downside of its method with the huge gains that come from whistleblowing, but businesses can do no such thing. Let's not point our accusatory fingers at the wrong organisations by misprioritising.

A bunch of paranoid MPs in the UK have taken to the internet, to tell everyone to stop using the internet. Because if you allow people to use the internet, then the terrorists will win! Keith Vaz et al have been claiming for some time now, along with their Religious-supremacist peers in various countries, including Erdogan, president of Turkey, that because 'terrorists' can use Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc, then no-one should be allowed to use them. "Huge corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter with their billion-dollar incomes are consciously failing to target this threat and passing the buck by hiding behind their supranational legal status, despite knowing that their sites are being used by the instigators of terror", Vaz has said. But they also use roads, too. And newspapers. And MPs, to instill fear in the populace, thereby encouraging them to capitulate to oppressive measures, without having to do a thing themselves. The chorus of anti-internet pro-censorship hollaring is dominated by superstitious ideologues who don't want the people to be so free that they can learn inconvenient facts about the world. Keith Vaz might be a Labour MP, but he is fighting on their side, not against them. It is not without good reason, that the internet has been called the place 'where religions come to die'. Total censorship is impossible, criticism is free, and so are the people who use it, when they do.

Drones and refugees, now there's a combination. There are three possibilities that spring to my mind, when it comes to a news piece with those two elements: the suggestion that drones could be used to fight the immigrants, on the beaches; the paranoid suggestion that immigrants are using drones to spy on your children; or the suggestion that drones are being used to find and help migrants, many of whom have lost their lives while trying to get themselves a better life. Vote now, on which you think is the right answer. Admit it, you'd believe me if i said either of the first two were true, wouldn't you! But they're not (i hope) though the last one is. A man who fled the Taliban (and the US Air Force too) 15 years ago, has gone back to the Mediterranean where he was saved by Amnesty International, to use drones to hunt for migrants in trouble, on the waters, and on the beaches. Having been through the ordeal himself, he understands the mindset, in which people become dedicated to the ultimate goal, and spurred on by fear of what lies behind them, are ready to risk their lives for the sake of it.

Spurious or not-so-spurious? On the one hand, this seems like ordinary psychology research, in which vague properties of people are given poorly-defined measurements, in order to make attempts at objective comparisons. On the other hand, it seems like classic advertising pseudoscience, of the kind that might be titled 'Scientist discovers equation for perfect kiss' or 'science calculates perfect bum shape' which is actually produced when a PR company creates an advert for a client, and promises an academic and their department free publicity, if they'll put their name on it! This is real, and it happens a lot. So does Donald Trump rank above Adolf Hitler and "only just below" Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and Henry VIII, on the psychopathy scale? Has "Oxford University's Dr Kevin Dutton" actually done some spurious research, or is it all complete bollocks, invented by a PR company, on behalf of a publishing company with a few books on the way, intended to have the word 'psychopath' in the title? Or a Democrat-leaning lobby group? Or an insurance company that's trying to worry people about the abundance of psychopaths in the world? Or one of various possibilities, of who might commission such bullshit? It's yet another reincarnation of Poe's Law, isn't it - the parody is too similar to the sincerity, in order for us to tell the difference :-D

Jeffrey Williams has set a NASA record for longest time in outer space, at 526 days, as of this article's posting. But the world record for time in space goes to Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who had spent 879 days in space, in five separate stints, when he returned to Earth's surface last year.

Also in the news this week: the UKish newspapers have been having a go at the BBC (no surprise there, then) for firing the Met Office, who do all the weather reports on TV. Well, it is true that the BBC's contract with the Met (Meteorological) Office is due to end, meaning that any future weather presenters won't be employees of the UK's best and brightest weather and local-climate research and reportage body; but this has been known for a whole year. In other words, it isn't news :-D

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: hawking -- employing a hawk or falcon for hunting or entertaining purposes; flying akin to a hawk; preying on another person, generally non-cannibalistically; belligerently advocating war, especially if they're in a seat of government; any other use of aggressive policy in business, government, etc; selling something in person, and in public, usually by shouting out in order to advertise it; spreading rumours and news; an effort used to raise phlegm from the throat, or throatclear noisily

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Time lapse captures processionary caterpillars crossing footpath'

'Spirogyra - Under the Microscope'

'Can Paper Cut Wood?'

'The Secret of Floppy Paper - Numberphile'

'How To Trap Particles in a Particle Accelerator'

'Rosetta captures comet outburst'
It's a GIF, so click on it ;-)

'Image: Space station view of Grand Canyon National Park'

'Black Salve - Cancer 'Treatment' That Burns Holes in You!'

'The Adventures of Dad³ - No Dad's Sky'

'The Food of Dad³ - We'll Be Right Back After This...'

'The Robot Wars'

'An Expensive Lesson | The Checkout'

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