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Dilbert June 21, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in Humor.
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Get Dilbert 2.0: 20 Years of Dilbert by Scott Adams. Here is the description.

Description: Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Scott Adams’s “Dilbert,” the touchstone of office humor, this special slipcased collection–weighing in at more than 10 pounds with 600 pages and featuring almost 4,000 strips–is divided into five different epochs personally selected by the author. Also included is a piracy-protected disc that contains every “Dilbert” comic strip to date and that can be updated as new cartoons are released.

Check out the mashups on the Dilbert web site: http://www.dilbert.com/. See if you can be more amusing than Adams.

Gender vs. Sex Differences June 21, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in "Gender".
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Let me first set out my stall. Sex differences are produced by biological processes.  Gender differences are produced by social and cultural programming otherwise known as socialization.  Sex differences refer to male- female biological differences. Gender differences refer to masculinity- femininity, that is, social role differences. Differences between males and females are due to both sex and gender. When you are asked on a form to specify whether you are male or female, you are being asked what sex you are, not what gender. Yet the form will categorize this as a gender distinction. The current conflation of these two terms, “sex” and “gender”, is due to sociologists of culture whose contribution to knowledge is a matter of debate.

In 2007, the New York Times published an article, “Pas de Deux of Sexuality Is Written in the Genes” (10 April 2007). Discussion of this issue are flawed because they focus on averages when they should focus on the differences in the two distributions. For example, a study of history achievement shows that, on average, girls do better than boys. BUT, about 50% of boys are both worse than and better than the girls. The same seems to be true for math.

Possible explanation? I would go for subtle brain differences as an initial hypothesis. But Sam Savage (son of the famous statistician Jimmie Savage) in his The Flaw of Averages (2009), and his wife, “a professional writer who did not get Ds in English”, put it this way.

“Interpretation for men only by Sam Savage. Guys it’s pretty much what you knew all along. If you define a genius as someone who is in the top 1st percentile, men in this category significantly outnumber women.

Interpretation for women only by Daryl Savage. Hey, ladies, don’t listen to my husband, it’s pretty much what you knew all along. If you define a moron as someone who is in the bottom 1st percentile, men in this category significantly outnumber women.”

Unfortunately, his discussion of sex differences does not make it into the book’s web site – The Flaw of Averages, but the book itself contains a few references.

While I did suggest brain differences as a cause of sex differences, social and cultural programming can not be ignored. A number of years ago, girls were doing better in single sex schools than mixed sex schools compared to boys in some subjects. The reasons seemed to be due to peer influences – either they did not wish to or did not feel confident enough to compete with the boys, but with the boys “out of the picture”, these influences were significantly mitigated with the result that the girls began to do better than the boys in those same subjects.

In the intervening years, girls have become more empowered, which is a good thing. Could it be that the subsequent relative lackluster performance of the boys is a byproduct of this empowerment thereby placing the boys in a similar position the girls were in not so many years ago? Could the difference we see be socio-cultural in origin as it was then?

In putting forward explanations touting brain differences, which seem to exist, we have a problem. Just as, in general, explanations of differences in terms of genetics make no sense in the absence of a mention of the environment – it is always genes + environment, so in this case, it is brain structure and function + social and cultural programming. Moreover, we know that conditioning alters brain function.

Is one more important than the other? I don’t think we know for certain and the question may be misguided. What we do know is that compatibility between biology and the social and cultural environment and its associated programming is helpful. But this does not tell us very much unless we are more specific across the board.

PowerPoint enhancement from Microsoft June 18, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in Technology.
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Microsoft has just come out with an enhancement to Powerpoint 2007 which many will find useful. It enables a presentation to be integrated into authorStream and youtube by a few clicks of the mouse. What is even more interesting is what can be done with a PowerPoint slide presentation using a Wii controller; pptPlex also enables a presentation to be sent to your iPod.

I recommend a look. Here are some useful links, with brief commentary.

This is an overview of pptPlex. The commentary sounds like it might have been prepared with  dummies in mind – MS working to the lowest common demoninator, as it were.


Using a Wii controller for a PowerPoint pptPlex slide show.


Here is a Wikepedia discussion about what sorts of things can be done via authorStream.


Now, authorStream itself.


How to send a PowerPoint slide show to youtube via authorStream.


Your authorStream show can also be sent to your Apple iPod.

Transfer speeds between authorStream and youtube and within youtube itself, according to MS’s own commentary, can be unusually long.  Have fun.

Culture & Consciousness – the theory of Julian Jaynes June 12, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in Culture, Mind, Psychology.
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Jaynes’ theory was set out in his The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

In prep.

Response to Ann Pettifor’s ‘Recession is not over’ blog June 12, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in Economics.
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[Do read Ann’s new blog –   http://debtonation.org/2009/06/no-the-recession-is-not-over/. She is right; green shoots in the financial sector, if there even are any, do not mean a lot.]

I couldn’t agree with Ann Pettifor more. The entire thing is disgusting. Although some of the regular and financial economists, like Nassim Taleb and Vince Cable, spoke up, they were studiously ignored. And the rest never seemed to notice. Like her, I don’t think there is any reason at all for trusting the bankers. The data compiled by Eichengreen and O’Rourke show that this depression and the one in 1929 are not too dissimilar (http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/3421).

Nothing has been done about job creation, mortgage foreclosures, or business survival. Nor has anyone been indicted for the massive fraud that has gone on. The case of Deepak Moorjani provides good reasons for us to be enraged – cf. https://thedukeofurl.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/deepak-moorjani-deutsche-bank-the-nyt/. The claim that Brown is the only one to get the country through the recession is a joke.

In 1929 in the US, while the feds did nothing about mortgage foreclosures, many states individually initiated moratoria. I think there may be a good reason, from the point of view of the bankers and some politicians, that nothing be done; because they hope to recreate the bubble, thinking that this will end the recession and thereby render structural reform of the financial sector irrelevant. Even should some recovery take place, this will only postpone the inevitable reckoning that must occur. Besides, it is dangerous. Even now, some of the banks are back to their nefarious practices.

As she points out, such a “solution” is only applicable to the financial sector, and it is a short-term fix in any case. The real economy is being squeezed. As Moggridge argues for the Depression, structural reform and putting a substantial number of people to work, however artificially, is what is required. The notion that we “can’t afford it” is absurd, as anyone familiar with the arguments of Keynes, Minsky, Moggridge, and a few others should be able to see. What we can’t afford is to pretend that the debt can be paid down; it is too large – more money than the world possesses.

What will it take for there to be an uprising? My take on the rage at MP’s expenses is that it is partly displacement activity due to the bankers not being punished by the politicians who soon after the financial debacle were discovered lining their own pockets. People can’t get at the bankers, so they are getting at the politicians who haven’t gone after the bankers.

I see no reason to think that Brown either will, or even can, change. And Cameron has returned the Tories to Thatcherism, a disaster in every possible way – political, economic, psychological, social, cultural – in the making. As one flawed 20th century innovator once wrote, what is to be done?

Quackery discussion about Chiros via Quackometer June 11, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in Medicine.
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A fascinating discussion has been taking place on Quackometer, specifically about McTimoney Chiropractors who have advised those in the profession to take down their web sites entirely or revise them to ensure that no claims are made that can not be supported by chiropractic research. The letter is itself bizarre. The comments are lively and in good spirits – no personal vitriol.

Those who mentioned the Singh case and the judgment of justice Eady may be interested to know that, November of last year, Eady was attacked for trying to bring in a privacy law “by the back door”.

QCs defend Mr Justice Eady as newspapers accuse him of privacy law rulings” – Francis Gibb, legal editor, Times Online.

Some of the commenters have referred to various logical fallacies, so I thought it might be helpful if I defined a few of those for you. Logical fallacies are committed all the time, and recently by Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England. He committed the fallacy, in an interview, of affirming the consequent, which is high on the ‘oh dear’ list.

Fallacies & related matters:

a) Affirming the consequent: (King) [simplified discussion]

Hypothesis under test (ceteris paribus): Policy P will lead to desired results R;  in short, if P then R.

¡  Policy implemented & desired results are not observed:

  • Can argue from not observing desirable results following implementation of the policy that the policy failed the test;
  • This is a valid inference – [(if P then R) & not-R, then not-P], justified by appeal to the rule of modus tollens.

¡  Policy implemented & desired results are observed:

  • Can NOT argue from simply having observed desirable results following implementation of the policy that it passed the test;
  • This is a fallacious inference – [(if P then R) & R, then P] = the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

b) ceteris paribus: all else being equal.

c) tu quoque: you too. Considered to be a comment ad hominem where an attack is made on the person rather than on the position or argument.

allopathic: other suffering. An allopathic treatment is a traditional medical treatment that is used to oppose or suppress the symptoms rather than directly treat the cause. There does not appear to be a generally agreed consistent usage of this term.

iatrogenic: doctor induced. A cult reference to this is Ivan Illich’s Limits to Medicine, Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health (1976).

Godwin’s law (Mike Godwin, 1990): the longer an issue is discussed, the more likely it is that a comparison will be made to the Nazis or Adolf Hitler. (Meme, Counter-meme)

scientism: used pejoratively to indicate an improper use of science or scientific claim.

consilience: the unity of knowledge. The most recent salient advocate of this doctrine is Ed Wilson in his book of the same name. But this position goes back in the modern era to the unity of science movement of the first half of the 20th century advocated by many logicians and philosophers of science.

post hoc ergo propter hoc: after this, therefore because of this; sometimes referred to as the ‘correlation, not causation’ fallacy. No one mentioned this fallacy, but it crops up in arguments in such discussions all the time – either committed or rejected as fallacious. (See the hypothetical test above.)

Some fallacies, while logically fallacious, may not be rhetorically fallacious. And the Hellenic Greeks, who first systematized this approach, often thought rhetoric was superior to logic.  Certainly rhetoric was viewed as being more influential in changing minds than logic.


Singh (in the THE) is mistaken that the only key issue in the libel law debate is cost. Also at issue is the character of the libel laws themselves. The libel laws here are so bad that the US Congress is intending to pass more legislation protecting US citizens from UK libel laws. They would not be considering this did they not think that the situation was unreasonable and serious – they view such laws as inconsistent with freedom of speech, guaranteed by the Constitution. Brown should have put forward a written constitution by now. The libel laws here are dangerous and need to be substantially revised.

Some think that McTimoney taking down information on their web site is “proof” that they know that what they are providing is bogus. This is logically incorrect. All it shows is that they feel threatened or are paranoid. It is not an indication of guilt. This kind of inference is not justified. A claim that their treatments are bogus must be justified on other grounds. Having said this, I agree that secrecy is not the best policy and that it would be better for them and their associates to reconsider this action at the earliest opportunity.

Taleb’s 10 step solution to a Black Swan-proof world June 5, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in Economics.
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On the 7th of April, Nassim Taleb issued his 10 step program for protecting the financial sector from black swans in the future. Of course, by his own reckoing, this proposal can offer no guarantee that black swans will not reoccur, only that their likelihood would thereby be significantly reduced. I would like to quote his short piece from the Financial Times in full.

Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world

1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest.

2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.

3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus. The economics establishment (universities, regulators, central bankers, government officials, various organisations staffed with economists) lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system. It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in the ability of such experts to get us out of this mess. Instead, find the smart people whose hands are clean.

4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show “profits” while claiming to be “conservative”. Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.

5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. The complex economy is already a form of leverage: the leverage of efficiency. Such systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy; adding debt produces wild and dangerous gyrations and leaves no room for error. Capitalism cannot avoid fads and bubbles: equity bubbles (as in 2000) have proved to be mild; debt bubbles are vicious.

6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning . Complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it. Citizens must be protected from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.

7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”. Cascading rumours are a product of complex systems. Governments cannot stop the rumours. Simply, we need to be in a position to shrug off rumours, be robust in the face of them.

8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains. Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one. We need rehab.

9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement. Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as storehouses of value: they do not harbour the certainties that normal citizens require. Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).

10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. Finally, this crisis cannot be fixed with makeshift repairs, no more than a boat with a rotten hull can be fixed with ad-hoc patches. We need to rebuild the hull with new (stronger) materials; we will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into Capitalism 2.0 by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, shutting down the “Nobel” in economics, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here, and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties.

Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage. A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks and companies are born and die every day without making the news.

In other words, a place more resistant to black swans.

Unfortunately, the suggestion that banks be turned into utilities has no legs, that is, there is not the remotest chance that this suggestion will be implemented, even in a minor way.  Nor is it likely that his other suggestion, to take away the toys from the boys who broke them, has any chance of seeing the light of day in the political chambers. No one, either in the US or the UK, has made any moves to assist mortgage holders or do enough to create jobs. What a mess.

Check the Financial Times for related articles.

Sense about Science June 4, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in Uncategorized.
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free debate

‘Nuff said (Stan Lee).

Imposter phenomenon June 3, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in Psychology.
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A pervasive phenomenon in which people feel that they can not meet expectations and that this will eventually become evident, at which time they will be “found out” has recently become part of a public debate, which is referred to as the imposter phenomenon. What has yet to be completely appreciated are the social and cultural roots of this phenomenon and that it is endemic to our society. The fault lies not in ourselves, but in the social and cultural framework, and could be viewed as a kind of social pathology.

If we look at our interaction with others in terms of Erving Goffman’s metaphor of the theater and our interactions with others as performances, this theory of the genesis and consequences of playing the role of “being an imposter” can I think shed some light on this quite debilitating state of affairs. According to Goffman and his predecessor Charles Horton Cooley, when we interact with others and with ourselves, we can not get away from playing a number of roles These roles fit into a social framework and are culturally defined (although such “definitions” allow for individual creativity). They frame expectations of those participating and they enable the situation to be “manipulated” to a certain extent. as well as enabling us to incorporate the reactions of others to what we say and do as “evidence” for our views of ourselves and others.

This is how Goffman put it in his Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (note the final sentence):

Knowing that his audiences are capable of forming bad impressions of him, the individual may come to feel ashamed of a well-intentioned honest act merely because the context of its performance provides false impressions that are bad.  Feeling this unwarranted shame, he may feel that his feelings can be seen; he may feel that his appearance confirms these false conclusions concerning him. He may then add to the precariousness of his position by engaging in just those defensive maneuvers that he would employ were he really guilty. In this way it is possible for all of us to become fleetingly for ourselves the worst person we can imagine that others might imagine us to be (1959: 236).

In the early part of the 20th century, Charles Horton Cooley pointed out that, without being aware of it, humans “live in the minds of others” – they serve as a kind of “looking-glass”. This means that what we think they think of us is part of our very being. This carries with it the inevitable consequence that what we think they think of us inevitably influences what we think of ourselves. Complementing Goffman’s picture, Cooley says this.

As is the case with other feelings, we do not think much of it [that is, of social self-feeling] so long as it is moderately and regularly gratified. Many people of balanced mind and congenial activity scarcely know that they care what others think of them, and will deny, perhaps with indignation, that such care is an important factor in what they are and do. But this is illusion. If failure or disgrace arrives, if one suddenly finds that the faces of men [sic] show coldness or contempt instead of the kindliness and deference that he is used to, he will perceive from the shock, the fear, the sense of being an outcast and helpless, that he was living in the minds of others without knowing it, just as we daily walk the solid ground without thinking how it bears us up (1922: 208).

Helen Block Lewis, in a landmark study of shame and guilt (Shame and Guilt in Neurosis), found that the root of many people’s “neuroses” was a deep sense of shame or guilt. It seems to me that shame and guilt lie at the root of the imposter phenomenon. Feelings of shame and guilt take place in a context of cultural expectations. It is these expectations and our “drive” to meet them and falling short that leads us to consider that we may not be as good as we hope we really are. This is reinforced by evaluating the performances of others in terms of these expectations, expectations which are guiding their performances. Since we only have the appearance of the performance to go on, we are unable to assess the degree to which others, in reality, fall short of these expectations, Unless we are willing to ascribe to others the view, in the absence of evidence, that the way they appear to be does not match the way they really are, we must come short. In general, we have more evidence about ourselves than we do of others.

Nature Netowrk has a post referring to this phenomenon. The responses to this post are enlightening and saddening. It can be found here – http://network.nature.com/groups/women_in_science/forum/topics/4693 (Imposter syndrome). I would like to incorporate a response to two of the comments into my discussion, one by Stephen Curry and the other by Anonymous.

These two comments suggest fit I think my approach to understanding this phenomenon . Anonymous has painted an incredibly poignant picture of how this syndrome might develop and wonders about its origins. And Stephen has pointed to an institutional feature that might foster it. I believe both ineluctably point to the origins of this phenomenon, the society in which we live and the cultural expectations that accompany it. While I am sure Stephen is right that the syndrome is related to failure, it seems to me to be more closely related to the expectation of failure and the reactions many people develop to such expectations.

The coordination of all this reflexive activity is “engineered” by our society and carried by our culture through which this value-laden expectational network is transmitted from generation to generation. That one of the most pervasive ways of looking at ourselves should be so negative and thereby psychologically, and possibly physically, debilitating seems to me to be a damning indictment of our society.

As Stephen has implied, the fault lies not in ourselves but in the social and cultural framework.  I view it as a kind of social pathology, a pathology that is deeply embedded in our social institutions and ways of thinking.

I would go further than Stephen and suggest that this phenomenon is widespread throughout the professions and the business sector at the very least. An indication that this may be so took place during The Apprentice last year. The winner admitted “exaggerating” his CV, elaborating that he did this because he felt inferior and that without making himself look a little “better than he was” he couldn’t compete with others.

In discussing what the candidate had done and how they should view it, Sugar and his colleagues admitted that they and many others had done something similar when starting out. The only reason they would feel forced to appear to be something that they aren’t yet but hope to be seems to be because the expectations they are encountering, or are being led to believe they are encountering, are pathologically unrealistic.

The psychological state described by the candidate doesn’t exactly fit the imposter phenomenon but it is closely related and, I would argue, is produced by the same social and cultural pressures which lead to feelings of shame and guilt that seem to me to be the engines of the imposter phenomenon. That so many people are made to unjustifiably feel this way about themselves, and in some cases make themselves ill as a consequence, should be unacceptable. It is as if the set of expectations that have developed have evolved to fit “products” of certain environments. That this may be so does not render it less pathological in its consequences.

Temple Grandin, animal behavorist and sufferer from autism June 1, 2009

Posted by thedukeofurl in Animal Behavior, Philosophy, Psychology.
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Temple Grandin is a remarkable person by any reasonble definition. I have been aware of her work and the insights she has into animal behavior for a number of years. A film of her life and achievements is due to come out this year entitled simply Temple Grandin.

Her achievements are all the more remarkable because she is severly autistic. As terrible as this is, she has been able to utilize her autism in some way to better understand the ways in which animals “see” their world. She is an animal behaviorist at the University of Colorado and a consultant to livestock producers, solving some of their most perplexing problems; she has also designed livestock enclosures and related apparatuses that she contends renders the animals’ treatment more humane. She is also a superb draftswoman.

However, don’t take my word for this. She describes herself in terms of Oliver Sacks’ phrase, ‘an anthropologist from Mars’ and I highly recommend her own writing – the content I found astonishing.

Thinking in Pictures (1995);

Animals in Translation (2005); and the newly published

Making Animals Happy: How to Create the Best Life for Pets and Other Animals (2009).

She has her own web site and there are videos on youtube.


A critical assessment of Grandin’s thesis, put forward in Animals in Translation, that animals are cognitively much like autistic humans, including a response by Grandin, can be found at http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060042 (“Are Animals Autistic Savants”: 2008).   Grandin contends that humans think narratively with language, while animals, lacking language, think in sensory terms. Animals also attend to details at the expense of the overall picture, which she claims is what those with autism do. The authors disagree with this and contend that animals and humans are not dissimilar in the ways they attend to detail, using data from brain function studies in animals to support their case.

The article is exceedingly interesting and I recommend it without endorsing its conclusions. I am neutral with respect to Grandin’s hypothesis as well. The article and Grandin’s response is a prime example of how scientific discussion should proceed.