YouTuber potholer54 has a video response to Climategate/SwiftHack:

There must be a lot of people on YouTube who think being able to activate a webcam qualifies them to assess the veracity of climate science. Chalk it up to the superiority bias. To quote the science blog, Stoat:

just about everyone knows they aren’t able to understand, or make a meaningful contribution to, general relativity or quantum mechanics or number theory (except Cantors diagonal proof, of course, which every wacko knows is wrong). Somehow, however, people imagine that they understand climate science 😦

Apparently he’s already forgotten about those who wanted to shut down the Large Hadron Collider due to fears it would create a blackhole that would swallow up the Earth. And just as in that case where LHC physicists were receiving death threats, climate scientists are also being similarly harrassed. So I’d amend that quote to:  People imagine that they understand the science, any science, especially if they don’t agree with it.


For those who didn’t see last night’s The Events on C4, it is the latest project from UK’s very own mentalist, Derren Brown. In the first installment he claims to have predicted Wednesday’s lottery draw, and then revealed how he did it two days later. The program turned out to be a wonderful piece of entertainment dressed up to look like something educational — or should that be the other way around?

The bit I found most interesting was the coin flipping experiment that he reframed as a competition between two coin flippers. One challenger flipped a coin until he observed three heads in a row, whilst another flipping on Derren’s behalf was looking for a pattern tail-head-head. They each took turns flipping and the side that saw their target sequence first was declared winner of that round. Intuitively, one would think that each of the 8 patterns of 3 coin flips (HHH, HHT, HTH, etc) would be equally likely to turn up, yet Derren’s side won most of the rounds in this game. Unlike the other segments of his show, this one used almost no trickery at all. The coin tossing problem is explained quite well by Oxford mathematician, Peter Donnelly in his TED Talk.

Derren Brown chose tail-head-head (he could have chosen head-tail-tail) precisely because he knew this sequence was the most likely one to turn up in a continuous stream of tosses. If both flippers were instead allowed to flip three coins during each turn, then the original intuition would apply — all 8 outcomes are equally likely. However, the winning strategy Derren claimed to be using makes absolutely no sense. What if the challenger chose HTT, they what would you do?

Update: I’ve looked this sequence over, it is now apparent that both teams are looking for the their chosen combination in one shared sequence of tosses, and not as I had assumed previously, two independent sequences of tosses. This set up makes the game non-transitive and is called Penney’s Game.

As for the rest of the explanation of using crowd sourcing to predict a purely random outcome, perhaps it is fitting that this stunt coincides with the week in which the financial media commemorates the one year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the near catastrophic meltdown of the financial market. A lot of people staked their entire future in the collective wisdom, rationality, and self-correcting crowd sourcing nature of the free market and then got it so spectacularly wrong.

So, how did Derren Brown really do it? One possible method is a camera trick:

Or any other method whereby you load the numbers on the rack moments after the lottery draw. It’s the bigger budget version of the trick demonstrated in this video clip:

The really clever bit is in delaying your “prediction” without people noticing.

In summing up what Derren purports to be the explanation, I’m tempted to cite Douglas Hofstadter’s comments on the Singularity movement that has grown up around Ray Kurzweil:

It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can’t possibly figure out what’s good or bad. It’s an intimate mixture of rubbish and good ideas, and it’s very hard to disentangle the two, because these are smart people; they’re not stupid.

The difference here is that Derren Brown is an entertainer and not a futurist, and he knows very well which is good and which is utter bollocks. Though I’m not so sure that the same can be said of many futurists.

I look forward to next week’s The Events in which Derren Brown claims to take control the nation of TV viewers. If the social media buzz so far is anything to go by, and especially if there is a significant increase in syndicates (most of which consisting of 24 gullible people) taking part in next week’s lottery, he can comfortably claim to have already achieved this feat.

It is how you approach an issue that determines what you see.



(Click thumbnail to download 640×480 version to do with as you please)

When the CEOs of the major American car companies travelled to Washington to beg Congress for a bailout, the most memorable moment in the popular media was when Representative Brad Sherman grilled the CEOs about their use of individual corporate jets.

The issue was deemed sufficiently important for public relations that General Motors wants to block the public from tracking its leased planes. Japanese CEOs seem to have a completely different attitude when dealing with potentially embarrassing corporate perks:

Why the big difference in approach between US and Japanese company leadership? According to Steven Levitt, in his TED talk on Crack Economics, the Americans seem to be following a fairly new principle in economics that is common in gangland hierarchies. This principle is so new that economists don’t have a proper academic term for it, so Levitt uses a gang leader’s parlance:

Indeed, the “weak and shit” hypothesis seems to fit the car company CEOs quite well.

That’s a good start. Hopefully this is one campaign promise the president elect does not break in the next four years. What is really sad however is that the audience was moved to loudly applaud such a basic statement of belief. That just goes to show how damaging the past eight years of the Republican war on science has been to human progress.

The trouble with treating all basic science research as an earmark in the same class as that infamous bridge to nowhere, are all those nasty unintended consequences.

Is it now a scientist’s responsibility to defend the funding of basic research against cuts made by a Christian fundamentalist who denies anthropogenic global warming, defends creationism being taught alongside evolution as science, entertains thoughts of banning books, and believes she needs protection from witchcraft?

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann also weighs in:

It’s been over a year since the original “Did You Know?” video went viral and since then a second version had been made about one year ago:

It was originally intended to provoke discussion about the suitability of the US education system for the fast paced globalised world in which we now live. However, in light of the fact that globalisation is not panning out to be as rosy as the authors of that video seemed to be portraying a couple years ago — what with the credit crunch, recession worries, energy crisis, food crisis, and general reduction in freedom — I thought it would be a good time to create my own version this video:

(In case you need to see the URL references blocked by the YouTube logo, you can also view it on the YouTube website)

One can consider this to be the flipside of the globalisation coin — the side that the authors of the original video deliberately left out. Not sure if K-12 can tolerate this level of cynicism and reality in one 10 minute sitting however.

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