If sports were reported like science

Bad Science author Ben Goldacre has long wondered aloud why science stories in the media have to be purged of the crucial terminology such as “double-blind” and “randomisation” when the sports pages and financial pages are full of terminology that’s particular to those audiences. Blogger Mike Knell takes the idea a bit further in a well-observed satire.

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Drive: Why Money Doesn’t Motivate

Dan Pink’s talk (previously featured) and some wonderful, witty animation combine to make a short film about the psychology of motivation. This illustrates why the economic concept of incentive is problematic: it’s just not the case that more monetary incentive means that work will be done more enthusiastically. Pink comments on the success of projects such as Wikipedia which are dependent on free labour.

The above is an extract from a forty-minute talk that you can see in full without the illustration.



Slide show on cognitive biases: a health warning

This morning I have mixed feelings from seeing something I’ve worked on being heavily praised, but for the wrong reasons.

Erik Fernandez, a blogger, has created a slide show about cognitive biases. I haven’t examined it carefully, but it seems like all the text is taken, or at least lightly adapted, from two Wikipedia articles; Cognitive bias and List of cognitive biases. I know this because I recognise my own text in the slide show. Under the terms of the Creative Commons licence, Eric is entitled to copy this material and make derivative works, but not to pass it off as his own work.

These articles are a long way off finished, and in their partial state they can be actively misleading.  As one of the authors, this is partially my fault. It’s better than nothing, but they’re not ready for wide publicity.

That’s why I’m concerned that over the last couple of days, the slide show is getting a huge amount of attention by being featured on the high-traffic blogs BoingBoing and LifeHacker. These blog posts treat the slide show as an original work and make no mention (because Fernandez doesn’t) of where the text comes from. Read the rest of this entry »

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First, fool yourself: the sincerity of the psychic

Derren Brown gave us some interesting skeptical TV viewing this week, investigating the Liverpool based “psychic medium” Joe Power in a Channel 4 documentary. Brown has previously covered the topic of contacting the dead in a special called “Messiah”, which I highly recommend.

Power seemed convinced of his ability to contact the dead, although he obviously sees what he does as a “career”, hoping to be as big a star as Derek Acorah or Colin Fry.

It seemed pretty clear to me that Power was using a combination of “cold reading” (drawing out information from the sitter and feeding it back) and “hot reading” (using information obtained in advance): techniques that Brown and Richard Wiseman explained during the programme. In the heated final exchange, Brown tried to get Power to admit to being a “fake” and asked him “How do you sleep at night?” Power responded with righteous indignation.

If a so-called medium is using non-paranormal means to create effects or paranormal powers, does that mean they are consciously faking? Maybe not. I’m going to argue that a lot of psychics fall into the space between “genuine” and “knowing fake”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Interactive graphs for learning about hyperbolic discounting

Would you rather have 100 pounds in 12 months’ time, or 110 pounds in 13 months’ time? Most of us would take the latter option and wait just a month longer for 10% more money.

But now, move everything forward by 12 months: would you rather have £100 right now, or wait a month for £110? Suddenly an extra month seems a long time to wait: many of us would rather take the hundred.

This is an example of what’s called a preference reversal. The choice is essentially the same, but merely by transposing the choice in time, we can affect which option people prefer. Even if £110 seems more attractive to you in both cases, there will still be a similar reversal when we fine-tune the times and amounts of money. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cognitive Bias song

I’m delighted by this song a teacher has put on YouTube, summarising eight heuristics and biases:


The Daily Mail’s critical thinking test

On  14th February this year, British newspaper the Daily Mail inadvertently published a critical thinking test in its paper and web site. Some of the people who failed the test have been loudly proclaiming it on blogs, opinion columns and comments in forums such as The Guardian‘s Comment is Free. Apparently they don’t know they failed.

The article reported an interview with climate scientist Prof Phil Jones. The headline tells us that Prof. Jones has admitted that “there has been no global warming since 1995.” This article has been used as a “citation” by global warming deniers to show that there’s no scientific consensus on the reality of global warming. To a critical thinker, this should be very suspect. Let’s go through the mistakes one by one. Read the rest of this entry »

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