Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fusion vs. Moore's law
The victor may surprise you

It is a commonplace that "fusion is the power source of the future, and always will be". It's fashionable to knock fusion, so it's time to wheel out a graph that you seldom see:

[This version is nicked from here, but anyone acquainted with plasma physicists has probably had it stuffed down their throat]

The "triple product" - of the temperature, the energy density, and the time for which they are achieved - has doubled every 1.8 years. The equivalent in the semicon industry - transistors per unit area - is shown for comparison. 

Now, as a condensed matter/lasers bloke, I don't hold a brief for fusion, but I think the assumption - that fusion is a fantasy and that the plasma jockeys are spending their grant money on slow horses and fast women - should probably re-examined.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Now, a proper conservative film called "Confessions of a shopaholic"

The excellent LemmusLemmus has pointed out that a film being stupid need not preclude it being conservative. I quite agree. [He also takes apart the rest of that list, in a post that I highly recommend. When I am in a more coherent mood, I will write a piece discussing what happened to the relationship between the right and the military]

But until then, you should go and see "Confessions of a shopaholic". It is far better than its title would suggest,  and IMHO has a far stronger claim to being on the conservative film list than "Red Dawn".

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Red Dawn" is not a conservative film
It is a stupid film

It is said:

 Red Dawn (1984): From the safe, familiar environment of a classroom, we watch countless parachutes drop from the sky and into the heart of America. Oh, no: invading Commies! Laugh if you want — many do — but Red Dawn has survived countless more acclaimed films because Father Time has always been our most reliable film critic. The essence of timelessness is more than beauty. It’s also truth, and the truth that America is a place and an idea worth fighting and dying for will not be denied, not under a pile of left-wing critiques or even Red Dawn’s own melodramatic flaws. Released at the midpoint of Reagan’s presidential showdown with the Soviet Union, this story of what was at stake in the Cold War endures. 

Sed contra:

The opening of this film is breathtaking. I was literally left gasping for breath in amazement. I can't think of any other film that manages to cram as much military silliness into three minutes.

Your peaceful, remote American town is suddenly invaded by Soviet paratroopers. Why? Well, one might guess, because there's a war on. And that means if you see something rolling toward you, it's probably not the Welcome Wagon. So what do you do? Well, I didn't go to West Point, but my guess is the first few guys to land shed their chutes and set up a defensive perimeter for the rest of the troops.

Evidently Soviet doctrine was that as soon as you land, you run into the nearest town and start randomly shooting everything up. Because, even while chutes are still descending, there are Russkis in town doing just that. Taking out vital installations like, oh, a high school classroom and then, for good measure, firing a rocket propelled grenade down a hallway to take out what appears to be a blank, wood paneled wall. I could see if it was the school's trophy case or a bank of gym lockers or something, but a blank wall? Wait till they get the bill for the woodwork! That will teach the capitalist oppressors to mess with the glorious workers' paradise! Also, they blew up a school bus.

And why do you send in paratroopers? In the vast majority of real airborne invasions, the intent was to seize an airfield so follow-on troops and supplies could land, or capture a bridge to deny it to the enemy or prevent them from destroying it. So wouldn't it be nice to have at least some vague indication this town had military significance? Like a stream for a bridge to cross, or an airfield capable of handling more than a crop duster? But there has never been an airborne operation in history where the paratroopers dropped in just to seize a location just for the sake of seizing it. And who drops just a company of soldiers (which is about all we see dropping)? There have been small airborne operations where the force was small for secrecy. But that sort of went iz okna (out the window) when they jumped in broad daylight on the outskirts of town and started shooting.

If, for example, one were to define to Conservatism as a complete ignorance of military matters coupled with a tremendous enthusiasm for conducting them - and after the last 8 years, I can see why people might think that - then I suppose it is a conservative film. 

How terribly sad.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Daleks attack Balliol
Under the cover of snow 

Saturday, February 07, 2009

More MMR
The blogs swarm

The complete transcript is now available - Martin at the Lay Scientist has fisked part of it and linked to the rest. There's been plenty of coverage on the blogs - JDC of jdc325 has been all over this, as have the lads at Holfordwatch  and Dr. T*.

Dr. Goldacre has had an off-the-record chat with LBC - but no joy. 
I echo what I said in my previous post - polite emails to the advertisers are the order of the day.

UPDATE: Jon at Holfordwatch has been kind enough to share his collection of links and comments on the subject:

Dr Crippen of NHS BlogDoc: Jeni Barnett and LBC start the clean-up operation

Frank Swain of Science Punk: LBC sic lawyers on Ben Goldacre over criticism of MMR show

SJ Cockell of Fuzzier Logic: MMR scaremongerer sicks the legal dogs on Ben Goldacre

Podblack of Podblack Cat: Ben Goldacre - Will Not, Should Not, Be Silenced On Jeni Barnett.

jdc of jdc325: MMR Scaremongering From Jeni Barnett: LBC Use Legal Chill Tactics. Ugh.

Political Scientist: URGENT: The Joy of Law

Martin of The Lay Scientist: Jeni Barnett on MMR - The Complete Show.

Jason Brown of A Drunken Madman: More medical mendacity.

ES Armstrong of Scattergum: Jeni Barnett is an idiot.

Dr*T of Thinking is Dangerous: Is there a proper media lawyer in the house? Your country needs YOU.

Teek of consider, evaluate, act: Goldacre threatened with legal action over criticism of anti-MMR radio broadcast - UPDATED

Common Sense has updated the Measles graph for England and Wales.

Dr Rachie of The Sceptics' Book: What are LBC and Jeni Barnett afraid of?

Press Gazette: LBC in legal warning to Ben Goldacre over MMR blog post

Anthony Cox of Black Triangle: MMR and legal threats and The Today Programme's irresponsible MMR interview

Quackometer: Jeni Barnett and Irresponsible Broadcasting

MacSpider of Spider Comment: Jeni Barnett, LBC, stupidity and threats

Londonist: MMR, For Some Reason, Still Controversial

Michael Grayer of Non-Toxic: Many Many Rants… and not much evidence.

Julie Oakley of Julie's Pictures: Ben Goldacre – my hero! - an excellent outline drawing.

Cory Doctorow: SCIENTIST WHO CRITICISED DJ FOR VACCINATION SCARE TALK GETS COPYRIGHT THREAT and Boing Boing: Scientist who criticised DJ on LBC radio for vaccination scare talk get copyright threat

Tweet from Phil Plait.

On Medica mentions Ben Goldacre and Jeni Barnett: Highest number of measles cases in 2008

Tony Hatfield of Retired Ramblings: Ben Goldacre,Jeni Barnett, MMR and LBC's Heavy Legal Hand..!

Adam Bowie of The Ballad of Adam Bowie: Ben Goldacre and LBC

Media Watch: Bad Science v. Bad Lawyers

DavBlog: The "Controversy" That Won't Die

The Plummet Onions: Extremely bad science

Plashing Vole: parataxis: Jeni Barnett is an ill-informed loon and a danger to the public

No Rock and Roll Fun: Global radio menaces Ben Goldacre

Jacob Aron of Just A Theory: Ben Goldacre vs. Jeni Barnett: legal troubles over MMR scaremongering

Matt Wardman of The Wardman Wire: Ben Goldacre of Bad Science Threatened by Lawyers for LBC and Jeni Barnett

Judith Townsend of Goldacre on the 'intellectual property absolutists' - LBC's legal warning

Tom Reynolds of Random Acts of Reality: Bad Lawyering

PZ Myers of Pharyngula: Ben Goldacre and Jeni Barnett on LBC Radio

Bigger Pills: KO'd with a triple jab

Random Dumber Generator: Radio Station Fights Criticism With Copyright Claim

Orac: Help Ben Goldacre out...he's being sued again (We hope not, it depends on the nuance behind a takedown letter with "reserved rights".)

Phil Plait at Discover: UK in trouble? Measles, antivax garbage on the rise

Streisand is calling department at TechDirt: Radio Station Uses Copyright Claim To Try To Silence Bad Science Critic; Guess What Happens?

Nice shout-out by Greg of Lstrblg: The price we pay for the anti-vac movement

Miss Prism of a Somewhat Old But Capacious Handbag: Today's irresponsible tripe courtesy of Jeni Barnett

Texturbation has some strong views

Gareth Klose has some thoughtful questions: Is scientific tear-down fair use?

Electric Halibut wants to know: isn't MMR scaremongering all a bit 2007? Quite.

Matt Dalby of Santiago's Dead Wasp: legal bullying of bad science blog

Neil D of Harry's Place: Ben Goldacre receives legal warning

Witch Doctor asks: Jeni Who?

Paul Flynn asks: Spot the Ignoramus?

Bad Science Meets Bad Broadcasting

Solveda at Musings of a Phenomenologist: When MMR attacks (or LBC and Jeni Barnett, what were you thinking?)

The Skeptic's Field Guide: Help Ben Goldacre Beat Off This Artifice

Martial Arts Planet Forum: MMR, Jeni Barnett and Bad Science

Jon Bounds of The Bounder: Bad Science Needs Help or At Least Link Love

Verbal Gas Pedal of A Much More Exotic: The dangerous ignorance of Jeni Barnett harms children

Gary Marshall of Big Mouth Strikes Again: in MMR quack attack

Porcospino: Talk radio is bad for your health

The Jobbing Doctor: The Ben Goldacre Fan Club

Sceptics' Book reproduces a comment left by Ben Goldacre on Jeni Barnett's blog: What are LBC Radio and Jeni Barnett Afraid Of? and Damage Control for LBC's Jeni Barnett's MMR Rant Backfires Globally and on a Massive Scale

Infectious Diseases Dr Verity of Verity at Work: Alarm Bells, Lassa, Snow and the End of the MMR Scare

Quercus: MMR: As the actress said to the doctor...

Law Librarians mentions the kerfuffle: While I'm Here

Chris Ward of Terroir: Jeni Barnett Is An Idiot

Karl Haro von Mogel of The Inoculated Mind: Go Download This

Dr Grumble reveals why he will not agree to record an item for LBC radio again: LBC sharks

Daniel Onions of Phoebus Gins (what is not to love about those names) wonders if LBC are trying to deliberately stir this up: Jeni Barnett and Bad Science

Two Nil Blank Blank 20__ swears to Beelzebub that this kerfuffle has become London's Biggest Conversation

Mick of Bright Reason warns that you may lose IQ points if you choose to listen to the notorious MMR segment: Badscience, Jeni Barnett woo-woo and the Streisand Effect

John Connell of John Connell - The Blog: Send in the lawyers. John has listened to the broadcast. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he reports:
the call from the 'vicious nurse' was, in fact, a call from a rightfully angry health professional who had obviously had enough of listening to the incoherent babbling of Barnett and her self-evident ignorance of the subject upon which she had chosen to pontificate. The nurse in question was far from vicious - she simply put Barnett right with a few salient facts.

Fish n Chimps of CMM News: Shock as Z-list Celeb Talks Out of Wrong Orifice
On the grounds that LBC is a commercial radio station that depends on advertising revenues, and on the even more tenuous grounds of this blog being about media monitoring, I present an example of a radio presenter firing off a rant that can physically harm or even kill children...
There's a strange wind blowing through British celeb media at the moment, with lynch mobs after Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand, Carol Thatcher and Jeremy Clarkson for referring or talking to people in an insulting manner. What Barnett has said is far, far worse because of its potential to encourage gullible or ill-informed parents to make a decision that they may well regret later.
Forgive the extended quotation but this is a very interesting take on current events in media-celeb land.

Jonathan of No Sleep 'Til Brooklands: Jeni Barnett and MMR. Jonathan is bemused at the cavalier sneering way in which Jeni dismisses Yasmin's recommendation that if she were looking for information about vaccination on the internet, then she might consult a reliable source such as the Department of Health rather than sources of error. Apparently, "The Dept. of Health frightens people".
Yeah, you don't wanna be running into the Department of Health down a dark alley. That pretty much sums up the standard of evidence Barnett is working from; throughout the whole show she relies on anecdotes, a ludicrously fuzzy understanding of science, a breathtaking array of logical fallacies and a lot of vague suspicions about the motives of people promoting MMR (a level of skepticism she apparently doesn't have towards, say, homeopaths who call in to deride vaccines despite making their living out of selling the alternative)
Cubik's Rube unusually has: A blog post on a Friday. He notes that even after she has realised that she should have been better prepared:
Jeni hasn't given up her impassioned defence of emotion and instinct over information and understanding.
Masks of Eris is finding that: World Sucks.
In UK, Ben Goldacre, a nice and sensible person, is again bothered by woo-woo people of unspeakable acephaliousness — and since they have no facts, and no talent for handling them even if they did, they use lawyers.
Professor David Colquhoun of dcscience: Jeni Barnett and LBC: dangers to public health. Like many others, Prof Colquhoun disagrees with Jeni's characterisation of her exchange with Yasmin as 'vicious':
The opinionated and ill-informed actress turned talk show host, Jeni Barnett, spent an hour or so endangering your children (and hers) with what most surely be one of the worst ever accounts of measles vaccination...

She was abominably rude to a well-informed nurse who phoned in to try to inject some sense into the conversation...

When will people learn that lawyers are not the proper way to settle matters of truth and falsehood.
As ever, vigorous sentiments, well-expressed.

Commonplace Book offers a lively and a propos quotation from Tim Minchin: Jeni Thick-ett.
In the current hysterical climate, where a comedian can be banned from the airwaves for three months for leaving crude answerphone messages to the grandfather of one of his conquests, or the daughter of an ex-Prime Minister can be sacked on the spot for a stupid comment made, off air, to a colleague, I am surprised that Barnett hasn't come in for more stick...

After reading [the transcripts], I was tempted to quote some [lines from Tim Minchin's fabulous Storm], specifically the lines:
Keeps firing off clichés with startling precision
Like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition
John at Sore Eyes has some reservations about the size of the chunk that Ben excerpted but fully agrees that LBC is being disproportionately heavy-handed: LBC are bullies, pass it on

Eastwood DC of Dread Tomato Addiction (you may want to read Mark Clifton's 1958 essay if you would like to understand the name) suggests: The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers

Skepacabra notes the latest heavy-handed legal reprimand: Ben Goldacre is Being...

Andres Guadamuz of Techno Llama offers a thoughtful and interesting legal opinion that is well-worth reading in full: Bad Science meets bad copyright.
Beyond the strict legalities of the case, one has to feel that Bad Science has done nothing ethically wrong, on the contrary, the reproduction of the clip serves the public interest. Those who espouse the blatantly damaging view that MMR should be trashed, and worse, use their public standing to further such myths, should be held accountable. It is typical of those with indefensible positions to use, misuse and abuse copyright law in order to stifle debate (Scientology anyone?) Copyright law serves a clear purpose to society, but when it is used to censor and remove contrary opinions then the public interest should prevail.
Gimpy has his own opinions on where some of the blame for Jeni Barnett's remarkable antivax rhetoric comes from: Jeni Barnett's MMR scaremongering - the role of homeopathy.
I will focus on a particular vice of mine. Homeopathy. While bloggers and others are justifiably getting angry at Jeni Barnett and the media over this issue I think it is important to look at professions that feed and grow strong on such public emanations of ignorance and doubt...

Barnett may believe she is just sharing her opinions with her listeners and giving a forum for a spectrum of views but she fails to realise or fails to care that the mistrust and disinformation broadcast across the radio waves by LBC is being absorbed by homeopaths, packaged into a bitter narrative of fear and mistrust of science based medicine, and sweetened with a sympathetic ear and a sugar pill. Homeopaths view such voices in the media as reinforcing their beliefs and giving them more confidence in their practices.
Anthony Cox of Black Triangle has done some follow-up: Transcripts of Jeni Barnett on MMR on LBC Radio and he tells us that the rumours of a Conspiracy? have already started.
Anti-vaccinators have exploited the internet for years. Websites, blogs, and forums are widely used by activists to promote their wrong-headed cause. However, when the pro-science pro-vaccine lobby use similar methods a common accusation is leveled at them. Here it is posted at JABS, the UK's leading anti-vaccine website.
There is no way all of this could have happened so quickly without Pharma backing.
Demotivated posters now offer a little something in the style of Jeni Barnett and Measles Was Never That Bad Anyway. A rather sadder version of what is fast becoming the Jeni Barnett: Measles was never that bad anyway meme.

David of Cloud Soup ponders on a peculiarly british myth of MMR and autism: Jeni Barnett, MMR and Bad Science

Martin Stabe makes a glancing reference to the kerfuffle and states that it is to Jeni Barnett's credit that she defended herself and is allowing comments that disagree with her: Jeni Barnett: MMR and Me

Electric Halibut has now perused various transcripts of the infamous Jeni Barnett segment and come to the conclusion: there's a fine line between "finely tuned animal" and "weird"

Dr Crippen of NHS BlogDoc implores parents to get their children immunised: Jeni Barnett, MMR, Measles and Bad Science. Will she accept the challenge?

Chris Gerhard of The Dot in ...---... muses:You can't put it back in the box.
It seems the clever Lawyers at LBC have not really paid attention to how the web works. Specifically "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.". This post is part of that routing.
JHQ of Letting Off Steam has put up a response to the transcription of Jeni Barnett's phone exchange with Yasmin: Jeni Barnett, Antivaxxer.

Dr Petra has produced a very thoughtful piece that ranges across the issues of professionals working with people in media to explain their work and the actual dynamics of some of the exchanges in Jeni Barnett's LBC Radio MMR segment: Ever wondered why health professionals don't want to work with the media and the public are misinformed on medical issues?
There are major problems within journalism currently about the level of understanding of health and science issues by presenters, researchers and other media staff. While a minority appear to have a good grasp of what's going on and take time to read evidence and seek professional input, the majority of reporters are often poorly placed to understand and discuss complex and emotive health issues and lack the time, training and/or enthusiasm to get to grips with health or science evidence.

The result is a lot of opinion expressed as fact; endless hard-to-argue-with-rhetoric...

I think from reading [the transcript] it's pretty easy to see whose dialogue you could describe as 'vicious' – and it wouldn't be Yasmin.

Time and again myself and colleagues are invited onto TV or radio programmes or interviewed by print media journalists where we are interrupted, ignored, misunderstood, misquoted, ridiculed and quite often (as in the case of Yasmin above) deliberately insulted.
The Jobbing Doctor has produced British Medical Blogs 18 which is rather dominated by the issue of L'Affaire Ben Goldacre and Jeni Barnett. He tells a rather poignant story from his medical school days.
There has been a continuing unease that misguided colleagues and assorted quacks can, with a credulous and compliant media, start to cause significant damage to the health of children.

When Jobbing Doctor was a medical student, centuries ago, aeons ago, a young child with measles-induced brain damage was presented as a clinical case at his medical school. He had permanent brain damage as a direct result of SSPE (Subacute Sclerosing Pan-encephalitis), which is a direct result of Measles. This was a defining experience in Jobbing Doctor's career. He never forgot this.
The World Is a Lesson In Perspective urges people to donate by PayPal to Ben Goldacre.

If you like the London Bus Generator, go straight to Northern Doctor for another version of Jeni Barnett's very own meme: Raging across the blogosphere.

Phil Chamberlain of Taking Out the Trash writes: On dishing it out and taking it.
The difference with [Jeni Barnett] and other parents is that she is in a postion of authority and her programme sets the terms of debate for the public....

It's not good enough to be a little ignorant and a bit fluffy and think you're just helping confused parents take control. You need to take this stuff seriously or you need to go and find a job where you can't cause damage to other people.
There is, of course, a delightful Facebook Group: Defend Ben Goldacre from LBC

DBH of The Great DBH Rant has gone through the transcripts and concluded: Jeni Barnett Anti-Vaccination Drivel – Irresponsibility at its best. DBH wonders:
I wonder if she would want to get into any sort of intellectual debate about vaccinations when she doesn't have that button in front of her which allows her to switch off a caller. Since this unfortunate show has been on air and she was rightly criticized by bad science blogs left, right and centre, she has posted unrepentant posts on her own blog, depicting herself as a victim.
Richard Brennan refers to the dispute in his newsjiffy: Dr Ben Goldacre accused of copyright infringement by LBC 97.3 FM following MMR show blog posting.

Paul Flynn has had an opportunity to explore the transcripts and audio further since his last posting and he is taken aback: New nuke : old calamity.
Jeni Barnett is angry at the response to her broadcast and describes a nurse who rang in to disagree with her as "vicious". I listened to the exchange. The nurse was quiet, persuasive and courteous even though Jeni talked over her, cutting her off, and yelling at her with shrill irrational accusations.
The law must not be used to silence Ben Goldacre and the other voices of reason...
I hope to table an EDM about this disgraceful incident.
Peter Groves of IPso Jure takes time out from legal-beagling to highlight Dr Ben Goldacre as 'a person of many accomplishments' and to credit him as the originator of the fine expression, "intellectual property absolutists": IP news round up.

Simon HB of No Rock and Roll Fun is another blogger who has had more time to read through some of the transcripts, posts and follow-ups. He has posted his own follow-up: Global Radio: Jeni Barnett Defends Her Position.

The real question is why Global are sending legal threats to Ben Goldacre when, really, they should be calling in their presenter and asking why she thinks having procreated is some sort of excuse for taking a biased and wrong position on a programme where she should have been acting as a balanced moderator.
Guido of Guido Fawkes is pleased that: LBC Get Wiki Leaked.
Guido loves Wikileaks. They are like a risk management tool for bloggers.
The Milligan comments on parts of the transcripts: Jeni Barnett Spouting Pure, Unadulterated Ignorance About the MMR Vaccine. After much study and analysis, The Milligan concludes:
This ignorance is broadcast to a lot of people. The DoH doesn't frighten me, but the idiot Barnett scares me a lot. Thankfully my three kids have been vaccinated, and with every passing day, I vaccinate their minds against people like her.

And the scores on the doors are...

A new twist on an old problem

Professor Geras at Normblog proposes a novel twist on the Monte Hall problem:

A new version of an old story. You're a participant in a game show and have three doors in front of you. Behind one door is a complete set of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack and behind each of the other two doors is a signed photograph of Mary Chapin Carpenter. Being a rational person, you naturally want the Wisdens. You choose a door - let's call it door A - and after you've done so, the game show host, before opening door A to let you see what you would have won, opens another door - say, C - to reveal one of the two unwanted signed photographs. He or she now offers you the following option: you can stick with door A and get whatever is behind it; or you can alter your initial choice and go for door B. Should you stick with A or go for B, or does it make no difference which you decide to do?

Norm correctly states that while intuition leads us to assume there is no difference, actually switching doors doubles our probability of winning.

He goes on to suggest a modification:

OK, so what puzzles me is this. Suppose that one evening there are two participants playing at the same time: you and me, rather than you alone. We both want the Wisdens. Neither of us wants a photo. Suppose, further, that things are so arranged that a door can be opened for you to see what's behind it, without my being able to, and that a door can be opened for me to see what's behind it, without your being able to. So we make our initial choices, and let's imagine - just to keep things simple - that we don't go for the same door. Let's say that I go for door A and you go for door B. Look again now at cases 1 and 2 above. The host can show both of us door C. And, if what I've said is right, it's in my interests to switch from door A to door B and it's in your interests to switch from door B to door A. If I stay with door A, I have only a 1 in 3 chance of getting the Wisdens, but if you go for door A, you have a 2 in 3 chance of getting the Wisdens. The same disparity, though in reverse, vis-à-vis door B. Does this mean that probability is agent-relative? Even if it does, I can't escape the air of paradox in the proposition that it's better for you to choose the door I'm abandoning, and better for me to choose the door you're abandoning - that we both improve our chances thereby. Any offers?

Well, here’s mine:

The original problem 

Norm picks a door; any door. As the Wisdens is behind one of the 3 doors, the odds of Norm winning are 1/3. Accordingly, the probability of it being behind the other two is 2/3.

If Norm sticks with his door, his probability of winning the Wisdens is 1/3.

Now the host opens one of the doors, revealing the photo. [It is important to note he can always do this: regardless of which door Norm picks, at least one of the remaining two has a photo behind it.] If Norm swaps, this is effectively the same as being allowed to look in the other two, as he opens one and the host opens one. So his probability of winning is 2/3 if he swaps, as opposed to 1/3 if he does not.

Swapping doubles his chances.

The Norm Variation

In this scenario, both Norm picks a door, and I pick a door. Now, the host needs to open a door - but he cannot always do this. 

Suppose both Norm and I both choose a door in front of photo: the door we have not picked has the Wisdens behind it, and the host cannot open this door to reveal a photo. 

Ringing the changes

One way to adapt the problem is to generalise to the n-door case. In this instance, there are (n-1) photos, and 1 Wisdens.  Suppose I pick a door at random, my chance of winning the Wisdens is 1/n. The host opens another door, displaying a photo, and offers me the chance to swap. 

If I do not swap, my chance of winning remains at 1/n

If I do swap, my chance of winning can be calculated by noting that the probability of the Wisdens being behind one of the remaining n-2 doors is (1 - 1/n), and so the probability of the Wisdens being behind any given one of them is (n-1) / [(n)(n-2)]. Swapping leads to an improvement of the chances of winning by a factor of (n-1)/(n-2). [1]

Clearly, swapping is the correct strategy regardless of the number of doors, but the factor by which you improve your chances decreases with increasing number of doors, tending to 1 as the number of doors tends to infinity. 

[1] Quick reality check: for n=3, these results imply not swapping leads to a Pr(Wisdens)=1/3, swapping to Pr(Wisdens)=2/3, an improvement factor of 2, as expected above.

[Edited fur spoling]

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Joy of Law

I had not heard of Jeni Barnett until this week, and I cannot thank Ben Goldacre for bringing her to my attention. Unfortunately, Dr. Goldacre posted on his blog a segment from Ms. Barnett's radio show in which:

To illustrate my grave concerns, I posted the relevant segment about MMR from her show, 44 minutes, which a reader kindly excerpted for me from the rest of the three hour programme. It is my view that Jeni Barnett torpedoes her reputation in that audio excerpt so effectively that little explanation is needed.

(a) I think this should be disseminated as widely as possible. After all, if I have to know about Ms. Barnett's remarkably daft views on the MMR vaccine I see no reason why other people shouldn't.

(b) A transcript - suitably annotated to reflect the number, scale, and nature of Ms. Barnett's follies - is more likely to be regarded as a fair comment on a matter of public interest.

(c) Who advertises on LBC? I certainly would not feel comfortable buying a product from unethical companies that promote scaremongering. If someone has a list, perhaps a polite letter-writing campaign to the appropriate PR departments is in order?
Marie Antoinette plays shepherdess

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Dark Helmet

First up, Sir Terry Pratchett is a legend, and I've read all his books, including the ones nominally for children. The programme was both moving and watchable. He did an excellent piece for, IIRC, BBC Breakfast when he said that he wasn't sure it works, and discussed the importance of controlled testing. "It" is a therapeutic light helmet that, it is suggested, is beneficial for Alzheimer's sufferers. 

The bloke pushing the helmet came across as a bit creepy, to be honest. I'm going to remain skeptical about the idea for the moment: there's been one study in mice (here, thanks to science based medicine), and an unpublished, non-controlled human study which formed the basis for a press release.  Hmmmm.

As I'm not qualified to discuss the medical evidence, such as it is, I'll confine myself to the photonics [1]. I was a bit surprised by two aspects of the helmet: (i) the choice of wavelength and (ii) the sheer weight of thing.

(i) 1072nm (the wavelength from the mice study) is a bit of a funny wavelength to chose to generate with diodes.  You could could get a nice neodymium:YAG laser (suitably attenuated), diode pumped straight from the mains at 1064nm (and maybe externally tune to push the wavelength out to the edge of the gain spectrum), I suppose, but diode-wise the wavelengths 1050nm-1260nm are in a bit of a wasteland. Plenty of diodes in the red-NIR (the AlGaAs/GaAs  heterostructure laser was born to serve this range, and bulk GaAs has a band gap ~850nm at room temperature), you can hit the green-blue and even UV by making the jump from the zincblende to wurzite structure - with corresponding leap in bandgap - by putting some nitrogen into your device, and the telecoms wavelength region of 1.3micron (dispersion minimum of fibre) or 1.55micron (attenuation minimum of fibre) are well served (and correspondingly cheap), but the range in between? InAs/GaAs quantum wells, I suppose, might do it, or more exotically a quantum dot laser that either operates in an excited state or has been annealed to move the ground state to the appropriate energy; or perhaps an InP heterostructure? Could be pricey. I note the company already produces a hand held cold sore device that operates at this wavelength, so presumably they have access to a source of these diodes. The company sells it's device for £45 - I wonder how many diodes it contains? 

(ii) for goodness sake, the thing left impressions on his skull, and had a least one bloody great cooling fan. It would be much more sensible to build a fibre-based system: generate the light on a box on the floor, generate all the waste heat there where it can be air cooled away. This would make wearing the helmet more comfortable, and make controlling experiments easier (you wouldn't know if the devise were switched on or not), and would allow a range of wavelengths to be tested. This would be important to find out what is going on, and if a cheaper kind of light source could be used. I know fibre isn't brilliant away from 1.3 and 1.55micron, but it only needs to travel a few meters.

Bottom line: we need more information, some double-blinded controlled experiments that can survive peer review - and a better helmet design.

[1] If you are a UK taxpayer, perhaps I could take this opportunity to thank you for funding me to study this stuff. I'm very grateful. 

Quantum theory disproves GOD!!!!??!!
The Physics Delusions of a science groupie

Unity offers a disproof of Christianity through the medium of, so help me, the uncertainty principle:

The NeoDarwinian synthesis, alone, may not absolutely rule out the existence of such a hypothetical supernatural agent but the combination of evolution and quantum mechanic, specifically Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle does.

The uncertainty principle precludes the possibility of any entity that is not ubiquitous in its knowledge, understanding and control of the universe right down to the sub atomic level generating the precise arrangement of random events necessary to arrive, after the space of either 14 billion or 4.5 billion years depending, on your preferred starting point, at the existence of a small blue-green planet orbiting a yellow star on which, at this precise moment, a human being is explaining precisely why the idea of  non-interventionist god who takes a direct interest in the human race is entirely meaningless.

The uncertainty principle is the clincher in the sense that it places a clear limit on the nature of ‘god’ if one wishes to believe that such an supernatural entity exists. If we reject the creationist view that the earth, the universe and everything in it was created out of nothing in its more or less present state, give or take 6,000 years or so of wear and tear, then incredibly complex sequence of events necessary to get from the ‘creation’ of the universe via the Big Bang to where we are now can only have come about via either, from our point of view, an entirely fortuitous sequence of random events any one of which, had it spawned a different outcome, might mean that I wouldn’t be here to write this, and you wouldn’t be here to read it or because the entire universe and everything in it, to a subatomic level, is being directed but a truly omnipotent and omniscient supernatural agency.

Thanks to Heisenberg, there is no middle ground and no room for compromise. We must either have the god of Calvin and a universe in which nothing occurs but by the will of god, in which case we might as well forget all about any ideas of free will, moral agency and, if you believe in such things, salvation…

When we attribute prescience to God, we mean that all things always were, and ever continue, under his eye; that to his knowledge there is no past or future, but all things are present, and indeed so present, that it is not merely the idea of them that is before him (as those objects are which we retain in our memory), but that he truly sees and contemplates them as actually under his immediate inspection. This prescience extends to the whole circuit of the world, and to all creatures. By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.

Institutes of Religion, Book III, Chapter XXI

…or we can, at best, argue for a wholly non-interventionist deist ‘god’ who takes no active role and, for all we can sure of, no interest in our tiny little corner of the universe, and if that is all there is by way of a supernatural agency moving on the face of the universe then why should we be the slightest bit concerned as to their motives, purpose or opinions.

Who knew? 

The article is worth reading through, if only for this rather daring claim regarding Biblical manuscripts:

"They, on the other hand, have only a 1700 year old collection of Indo-European folk tales on which to base their belief in a universal supernatural agency, absolute morality and the suggestion both that the universe - all 4.2 x 10e69 cubic miles of it - has a defined purpose and that ourselves and miniscule area of it we occupy are somehow of central importance to this alleged purpose  - a set of stories for which there is no more substantive corroborating evidence for the historical existence of almost all of its main protagonists, including Jesus, Moses and Abraham, than there is for the existence of Gandalf, Tom Sawyer and Luke Skywalker."

Fans of Unity's somewhat heterodox grasp of physics might also enjoy this further disproof of the existence of the GOD:

If god created the universe, who created god?

This is a question that run entirely contrary to theological belief but logically, it remains an entirely valid question to which there are only two possible answers.

The theological answer is, of course, no one - god simply exists; but then god must have come into being from nothing and that violates the first law of thermodynamics in its universal form as the law of conservation of energy. So as were seeking rational arguments here, that answer must be excluded.

It's easy to mock this stuff, but there should be Bonus Points awarded for the originality: after all, I don't think anyone has ever come up with an atheistic equivalent to Intelligent Design before. 

Monday, February 02, 2009

All Rilstone, all of the time

This is an excellent day for everyone who appreciates Andrew Rilstone, and anyone who has never heard of him but loves literary criticism about Dr. Who, CS Lewis, and JRR Tolkien.
Mr. Rilstone has put some of his writings online here.

If you're new to the Rilstone phenomenon, a good place to start is his retrospective on William Hartnell's Doctor and his initial reaction to New Who.
If you enjoy forensic analysis of media porkies, an account of a week spent reading the Express and a footnoted headline will not disappoint. Nor will the curious affair of Phillip Pullman and the lipstick.
On Christianity, Peculiar People and Fan Club will be of equal interest to evangelicals and atheists, and he shares my views of hymns with bloody actions. He also wrote the only sensible review of "Passion of the Christ" that I have seen. 

Sunday, February 01, 2009

"Peer review is the worse system, apart from all the others" 
Tales of horror in the Academy

LemmusLemmus reports on a couple of excellent "editors are bastards and wouldn't know a qualified reviewer from a half-wit" anecdotes:

Everyone has one or two of these: share yours in the comments.