Saturday, January 30, 2010

Comics on false authority, straight from Socrates

Via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereai.

This is a great examination how we often believe authority, even when if it false. A daily example of this in advertising, when some actor speaks on a subject he or she don't understand, or supports a product, to lend credibility and weight to it.

This was examined at length by Socrates, when he tried to understand why the Oracle of Delphi would consider him the smartest man. The answer was that it may be because he alone realizes he doesn't know everything, and that most other smart people mistakenly believe that because they are experts on one subject, they are also on other subjects.

Is Democracy Not For Everyone? (Debate, Video)

In this clip, the speaker Greg Craven, shows how debate can be full of pathos, funny, and get the point across. Definitely worth the three minutes.

The full debate held at the Sydney Opera House (with more positive matter, and impressive international speakers such as a former prime minister) can be found here:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Word it like Warren

This is very cute:
Really smart people use figures instinctively, even if they don’t know what figures are.

Take Warren Buffett. Investors read his annual Berkshire Hathaway Chairman’s Letter like it was Moses’ tablets from on high, mostly to enjoy his wit and wisdom. Well, okay, mostly to glean the secrets of the world’s savviest investor. But how many investment letters get quoted for decades afterward? Mr. Buffetts’ do, because he’s a wizard at figures—the rhetorical as well as the business kind.

For instance, in his 2004 letter he said that a timely investor is one who’s “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” That’s a first-class chiasmus, though Figaro doubts that he’d use the term. “It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price,” Buffett said. Another nice chiasmus.Try it yourself when you want your writing to stick out. It’s not a question of whether we’re against Google. It’s whether Google is against us.

Besides using snazzy ways to change the usual word order, Buffett also likes one of Figaro’s own favorite devices: taking clichés literally. Here’s a quote from a panel discussion he did in 2008: “I try to buy stock in businesses that are so wonderful that an idiot can run them. Because sooner or later, one will.” See what he did? He took the cliché, “an idiot can run it,” and imagined that it wasn’t a cliché at all. Why prefer something that an idiot can run, if an idiot will never run it?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Content in election speeches

On the "Finding Bad Guys in Data" computer forensics blog, the author wrote of how he looked at election speeches from last year and mapped their content by key words.

A short and interesting post, which you can read here.

I am very excited that someone else in the computer security field takes a look at the importance of words and rhetoric.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Emotional Words Distract, Or Do They?

I recently read an article called Emotional words distract, but only when you're searching for meaning, in which the author discusses the impact emotional words have, and when they may not have an impact at all.

He shows research which examines putting emotional words in different contexts, and how when our task is not related to meaning, they won't affect us much, and the opposite.

An interesting read.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Some psychology links

Money and persuasion
Money is a biasing elaboration moderator of great impact, easy to administer, and almost completely hidden. People do not quickly or intuitively recognize that money makes them feel independent, autonomous, and sufficient. It triggers a biased schema, profile, or template in their minds that causes them to evaluate following information and interaction differently. If you want people to make an independent, but biased evaluation of your arguments, prime them with money.

This ties nicely back to the persuasion literature that demonstrates many cues work best in prosocial (i.e. nonprofit) settings. As I've blogged and written before, many message tactics like FITD and DITF have been proven to work badly in a sales setting, but function easily and effectively in a prosocial way. The Island of Money effect illustrates why. IoM makes us self oriented.
Social contagion in human behavior and emotions
David Disalvo at Brain Spin was an article on how blame can be contagious. He lists many studies on how any number of types of human behavior can be a contagion, ranging from fear and loathing, to obesity and even happiness.
Good looking staff are bad for business
The title of the story speaks for itself, although I am unsure if this will be true for all scenarios, or just in some.
Looking Younger…. Looking Less Masculine?
Egan & Cordan (2008) digitally altered the faces of 17-year-old girls (n=10) to look either younger (morphed to appear similar to the prototype of 10-year-old girls – top row) or older (similar to the prototype of 20-year-old women – bottom row). Additionally, some stimuli were altered by adding digital make-up (right column). The authors had forensic interests and were exploring the effect of alcohol consumption on judgments of age and attractiveness. As a result, they did not report the specific data on attractiveness ratings alone, but, did conclude that faces that appear younger are found more attractive. Raters consisted of an equal number of adult women and men between the ages of 18-70.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rhetorical game: Change the subject for fun and profit!

I invite you all to play the game of Straw-man Loop -- squirreling for fun and profit!

Someone starts it without warning by responding in a ridiculous, yet well constructed fashion, to another's statement.

The idea is to squirrel and go off-clash, responding to a different argument all-together. Then, in turn, the opponent(s) will respond to a different argument once again. Taking things to extreme by escalating the argument (and not the voice tone) is appreciated.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

The game is beautifully demonstrated on this The Daily Show sketch: Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate, as seen in the video above.

Speaker 1: "This steak is bad."
Speaker 2: "Deterioration of the senses such as taste due to global warming, is indeed a problem."
Speaker 1: "I agree! In fact, I believe that studying cloud formations on Mars is the only way to go in understanding Oceanography. After all, if we are to get a grip on how Wave Theory works in inter-brain Neural communication, we need a good case study."
Speaker 2: "Case studies are the essence of all evil."

You may also choose to elaborate on your point. In fact, the more logical your argument is, the more fun the game will be, with two considerations:

1. Do not take too long, this is a game of back-and-forth.
2. Depending on the spirit of the game, you may either want to stay away from reality with wild claims, or stick to factual content as much as you can. Building your arguments to suit this gives you extra respect -- as long as you don't stray from the two extreme ends.

You may want to build your arguments to hold multiple logical fallacies, but that is a matter of personal taste. Some may find it adds some spice to the discussion, others may find it makes things too easy.

The spice must flow, but we are out of swimming water! Enjoy your coffee!

Perhaps Exaggerate! is a better name for the game?

Motions gathered from recent news stories

Going over my RSS feed, I note interesting items which would make good debate motions.

Some of these are age-old, some are new. All are recent. The motions I list are merely examples, as every news item could support several different motions

THB Dolphins should be treated as non-human persons with equal rights
Item: Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons

THB people who donate organs should get a higher priority for transplants
Item: Israeli organ donors to get transplant priority

THB adjoined twins can't be punished for a crime one commits
Item: Could a Conjoined Twin Get Away with Murder?

THB museums shouldn't be allowed to sell their art for monetary reasons
Item: The Art of the Deal

THB community rating in health insurance is fair
Item: Is ‘Community Rating’ in Health Insurance Fair?

THB that dating sites can ban members for not being pretty
Item: axes holiday weight gain members

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You might not be her first... [Updated]

There's objectifying women, and then there's being brilliant.

Due to a witch hunt by friendly feminists, I need to write more than just the above. My friends think I suddenly changed sides. Not so.

I have several ideas about objectification. I am okay with it being used, as I recognize that it works, and then that this is a pluralistic society with free speech. And I believe that the female body can be used in an un-offensive fashion if people only tried. I dislike it being abused, such as can be seen daily. I see it both as realistic and as hurting society on some levels. But that is a discussion for another time, and not why I love this ad.

Make no mistake, this ad is brilliant, and I often strongly object to sex in advertising. Not just on principle, but also as it is manipulative and even stupid.

This ad is brilliant because it combines subtlety with in-your-face by using common popular culture, and at the same time both creating a buzz about it due to the either cool or annoying factor, depending on your view. Then, it also identifies BMW as both HOT and something you'd like to have, such as a hot women. It implicitly says: get a BMW, and you get the hot woman.

It is brilliant because it presents a lure and an answer many would find funny. Because it uses sex overtly rather than as a quiet manipulator. Because it hints that BMW is as sexy as the women.

It is brilliant because it is cool and sexy, without trying to be sanctimonious about it. Most other ads would put the hot women next to the BMW and objectify her so that people associate the BMW with her, as a way to get what they want or need. This ad makes you smile because it is different, and because it requires a bit of thinking; you seek out the words, rather than just look at the women.

Meaning: This is what a woman is, and this is what our BMW is -- everything the women represents for you.

But most of all, it is brilliant because it is simple.

The ad does its job, it gets the attention of its audience and annoys everyone else to get even more attention and success. I may be offended or I may think it is a rare good example of using women in advertising properly -- it doesn't matter, as it is so brilliant because it works!

And when my friendly feminist friends get a second to think, the picture shows much less skin than most other, more "acceptable" ads.

You may ask, why? Why would my friendly feminist friends want to burn me alive? This is due to various reasons:

1. The model is Photoshopped and presents an "impossible image of beauty"
2. The objectification of women is demeaning
3. Using sex to sell is barbaric
4. Being unsubtle at all, so why is this subtle?
5. Implying that women, just like cars, is something you buy
6. Or that if you get the car, the woman comes with it.

But most of all:
7. They would be mad at me for admitting it, as regardless of it being true, they see this ad as perpetrating the problem with our society.

My feminist friends would usually be right, and I'd usually be leading right along with them. But not this time. No, not this time.

As an helpful comment on my personal blog, the USED CAR angle went completely past me. This pun may be even more offensive to some, but in my opinion makes the ad all the more brilliant.

Update 2:
Morgan Collins writes on the funsec mailing list:
This is actually a modified version of the original BMW ad which ran in
Greece and attracted Internet attention back in July 2008. Someone added
the second line "But do you really care?" and posted it on Digg recently.

You can see the original ad here:

There is even an online petition to stop the ad with 65 whole signatures!

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

This week two prime examples of botched statistics hit my RSS feed.

The first was an interesting post on how statistics can be mishandled and misrepresented.

In this particular case, the author discusses's market share, and how it "dropped" significantly. In fact, it has not. It is still the leading URL shortener by a large majority, but it was never as big as statistics told us.

In older statistics, only the five leading services were taken into consideration, while in the new statistics, all URL shorteners were considered.

In the second example, the author examines how some things can be made to look bad. The point here is that taking the median of pay in the public sector as compared with the private sector, does not equate one for one the pay for different types of job. Thus, the claim that the public sector gets paid more is false.


The Daily Show on Appeal to Tradition

In the last The Daily Show episode, there was a faux-report on return to tradition and The America That Used To Be. They show that things were never as golden as we remember them, illustrating this with some great fake interviews in what can be an interesting rebuttal to appeals to tradition. But wait, there more!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

While this is far from the best sketch from The Daily Show, it has inspired Lisa Wade at the Sociological Images blog to think about arguments of nostalgia and to speculate on which nostaliga it is we are talking about, with an example of "traditional marriage".
Sociologist Stephanie Coontz, in her acclaimed, fascinating, and fact-dense book, The Way We Never Were, illustrates the way that what is considered “traditional” must be socially constructed. For example, when people say “traditional marriage,” do they mean marriage between a man and his property? Between a man and more than one woman? Is the idea age for marriage 13, 20 or 27? Is it for love, political maneuvering, survival, babies, or kitchens? How you answer these questions depends on when, exactly, in history you’re talking about. (See here for some humorous takes.)

The point: Since all of history is potentially a source of tradition, identifying any given period of time as The Traditional, and therefore deserving of our nostalgia, is arbitrary.

Spin of the Week: Uganda Child Sacrifice and Witch Doctors

[Syndicated from my personal blog, here]

The spin of the week catch goes to Brandon K. Thorp, on the James Randi Educational Foundation blog in an article titled Child Sacrifice in Uganda, where he discusses the recent outrage in regard to claims of witch doctors sacrificing children in Uganda.

The post is built of three sections, claiming:
1. That by merely writing on it and repeating it in a few publications, it has now become truth (what I call self-generating ethos).
2. That evidence is seriously lacking, and what facts are known are questioned.
3. That there are consequences to scaring people about witches, namely, witch hunts.

He ties it all together by discussing the bad journalistic work performed here, from the assumptions made by the reporters who later insinuate them as evidence, to why the evidence actually provided is unlikely to hold any water when scrutinized.

He asks to see what children had actually been murdered, as the claims made about numbers, even if witch doctors do ritually sacrifice children, are ridiculous.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" combined with Occam's Razor seem to do a good job as a team.

A great work of argumentation, writing and skepticism! I definitely recommend reading it.

BBC Parliament Drinking Game

My friend Daniel G sent this today. These rules are from a group on Facebook of the same name. With some tweaks it could make debating interesting even in the worst of bin rooms.
BBC Parliament Drinking Game
A parliament broadcasting themed drinking game.

Freeview or sky with BBC Parliament (ch31 freeview)



1) Everytime the following words are heard, you must drink the corresponding measure:

Goverment ------ 1 finger
Parliament ------ 2 fingers
Mr. speaker ------ 3 fingers
The right honourable gentleman ---- 4 fingers
Public -------- 5 fingers
society ------- 6 fingers
liberal democrat ------7 fingers

If the words "the war in iraq" are heard word for word, every finishes their drinks.

2) Everytime a speaker points his finger, whoever is sitting in the corresponding place in relation to the TV must drink.

If the speaker non-chalantly waves his hand o'er the majority of the screen, all must drink.

If the speaker sets his hands parallel with each other in the air and brings them upwards and downwards whilst speaking, all must drink the corresponding hand movements to finger measures. (see fig 1)

3) In the chamber, when the rabble is roused, the last person to slam their fist down and call for "order" must drink.

4) In the chamber, when there is an eruption of laughter, the last person to join in laughing must drink.

5) Everytime the speaker says "England", "English", "Britain" or "British" ... the last person to stand up and salute must drink.

***** This game reaches its full potential during a house of commons debate *******
A parliament broadcasting themed drinking game.

AnimeExpo Otaku Parliamentary Debate

AnimeExpo, the anime convention, is running a now regular event of parliamentary debate. They ask for teams to notify of their interest ahead of the con, and use interesting geek motions.

This is one of the most fun links I came across when it comes to debate.

I couldn't get it done last year, but Dan Kaminsky, Steve Llano and myself plan an event such as this at Defcon. Hopefully we will have the time to get it done this year. Naturally, all help is appreciated, and people who understand debate are more than welcome to join in the effort.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Association vs. Causation: Post Hoc Fallacies in Medicine

One of the themes in my daily life is that I closely examine whether what I see happen is actually happening, by examining how I draw conclusions. One of the biggies is; did something cause something else just because one followed the other, or happened at the same time?

In this post, the author Mark Crislip discusses how medical doctors can try and reason this out when diagnosing patients. Fascinating read, if a bit long.. so skim through if you like.

The author draws much from the 1965 paper by Austin Bradford Hill, “The Environment and Disease: Association or Causation?”

Association is a much better word to use than what rhetoricians are used to with Correlation, and I think I may adopt it.

You can also check out my post on Debugging for Medical Doctors.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

We Did It: Informative Article on Women at Work

The Economist had an informative and balanced article this week on women at work. It is a good information source for debates on women rights and equality, and a good article regardless.
AT A time when the world is short of causes for celebration, here is a candidate: within the next few months women will cross the 50% threshold and become the majority of the American workforce. Women already make up the majority of university graduates in the OECD countries and the majority of professional workers in several rich countries, including the United States. Women run many of the world’s great companies, from PepsiCo in America to Areva in France.

Women’s economic empowerment is arguably the biggest social change of our times. Just a generation ago, women were largely confined to repetitive, menial jobs. They were routinely subjected to casual sexism and were expected to abandon their careers when they married and had children. Today they are running some of the organisations that once treated them as second-class citizens. Millions of women have been given more control over their own lives. And millions of brains have been put to more productive use. Societies that try to resist this trend—most notably the Arab countries, but also Japan and some southern European countries—will pay a heavy price in the form of wasted talent and frustrated citizens.

This revolution has been achieved with only a modicum of friction (see article). Men have, by and large, welcomed women’s invasion of the workplace. Yet even the most positive changes can be incomplete or unsatisfactory. This particular advance comes with two stings. The first is that women are still under-represented at the top of companies. Only 2% of the bosses of America’s largest companies and 5% of their peers in Britain are women. They are also paid significantly less than men on average. The second is that juggling work and child-rearing is difficult. Middle-class couples routinely complain that they have too little time for their children. But the biggest losers are poor children—particularly in places like America and Britain that have combined high levels of female participation in the labour force with a reluctance to spend public money on child care.
Read more.

Learn cross-examination from the pro [Video, Lecture]

The Ethos Debate blog posted a very interesting video lecture from the Vector debate meeting with Jordan Lorence, a lawyer, on the subject of cross examination.

It's worth the time it takes to watch, both to learn how to question people in cross examination, as well as how to defend oneself by seeing what tricks are used.

The following is the first part, and you can follow the links to the other 11.

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
Part 5:
Part 6:
Part 7:
Part 8:
Part 9:
Part 10:
Part 11:
Part 12:

Interesting studies in social psychology [Research]

These are some of the more interesting studies that caught my eye in 2009.

One dollar a day to prevent teen pregnancy
The city of Greensboro, N.C., has experimented with a program designed for teenage mothers. To prevent these teens from having another child, the city offered each of them $1 a day for every day they were not pregnant. It turns out that the psychological power of that small daily payment is huge. A single dollar a day was enough to push the rate of teen pregnancy down, saving all the incredible costs — human and financial — that go with teen parenting.
Persuasion-wise, it reminds me of army recruiters in San Diego's streets during Comic-Coon. With clown make-up, and offering $1 bills. Only to get you to a meeting.

Naturally, once you take the bill you are psychologically committed.

This also reminded me of cult and "workshop" recruitment attempts. Who said these tools of persuasion can't be used for good?

Want to keep your wallet? Carry a baby picture
What would you do if you found a wallet on the street? Leave it? Take it to a police station? Post it back to the owner? Keep it, even?

The answer, scientists have found, depends rather more on evolution than morality.
Smiling increases good samaritan behavior
We tend to think that “good people tend to do good things.” But what if it wasn’t a person’s intrinsic “goodness” or personality that influenced their behavior, but something far simpler?

What if a simple smile could change a person’s behavior?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reframing Bonuses at the Factory [Paper]

[Syndicated from my personal blog, here]

A fascinating new paper studies the effect of framing bonuses on productivity:
During our experiment, which lasted almost six months in total, subjects engaged in their regular tasks, and had standard work schedules. As per company policy, the bonus incentives were paid in addition to the base income, and employees were notified of the bonuses via personal letters. The main insights gained in the experiment come from a comparison of productivity measures across a baseline and two treatments: in the positively framed bonus ("reward") treatment employees are notified that if the week’s average per-hour production reaches a certain threshold, a bonus is paid at the end of the pay period. In the negatively framed bonus ("punishment") treatment, employees are provisionally given the bonus before the work week begins, but are notified that if the average per-hour production does not reach a certain threshold, it is retracted at the end of the pay period. In this way, the bonus schemes are isomorphic, except for the frame. Nevertheless, prospect theory conjectures that since losses loom larger than gains, the punishment treatment should outperform the reward variant. Alternatively, if workers are more invigorated by positive incentive schemes, the reward treatment should lead to a higher level of productivity.
You can read more about "The Behavioralist Visits the Factory", here:

Logical Fallacies Theater - Tree Lobsters [Comics]

Reframing in the fight against airport full body scanners

[Syndicated from my personal blog, here]

Full body scanners are becoming a reality following the latest near-miss terrorist attack (the undies bomber).

The old arguments on loss of privacy are fast losing traction in the face of practical need, public fear, and politicians looking for bandwagon theater.

Bandwagon theater, defined:
A combination of "jumping on the bandwagon" and "security theater", similar in purpose but directly opposite to the concept of a scape-goat, trying to show they do something so they can please the public.

New arguments are now being presented, to try and fight this unstoppable bandwagon theater force of full body scanners, trying to reframe the idea as bad now that the privacy concerns are marginalized.

Radiation risk (fear mongering, red herring):
Claims have been made that there is RADIATION risk.
The radiation appears to be so minor it doesn't even register, but it's a good argument, if a red-herring meant for fear mongering

But, it's RADIATION (run for your lives!), need I say more?

Child pornography (straw man):
Claims have been made that child pornography laws may be violated by using the machines. This is obviously a straw-man argument, which if has any basis in reality can easily be avoided.

This campaign against full body scanners at airports, if it is indeed more than just background noise, is certainly fascinating to watch, even if I am against these machines.

To learn about reframing issues in politics, I strongly recommend the lectures from the 2007 Orwell conference, which I review here:

Logical fallacies in presidential debates [Video]

In this video from HowStuffWorks titled "Persuasive Techniques: How Political Candidates Debate", political expert Hal Bruno explains and demonstrates logical fallacies by examples from historical presidential debates.
In this program, viewers will experience firsthand the elements used by political candidates in debate. Primary source footage from some of the great debates of the late 20th century is featured.

A demonstration of the non-commutativity of the English language [Video]

Terry Tao writes on his What's New blog about a video he came across, which exploits a rhetorical trick he haven't seen before:

If nothing else, it’s a convincing (albeit unsubtle) demonstration that the English language is non-commutative (or perhaps non-associative); a linguistic analogue of the swindle, if you will.

Of course, the trick relies heavily on sentence fragments that negate or compare; I wonder if it is possible to achieve a comparable effect without using such fragments.

Is healthcare a right? [Video]

Steven E. Landsburg, author of The Big Questions, writes on his blog about a debate he was recently a part of:
A couple of weeks ago, here at the University of Rochester, two fine student organizations—the History Council and the Finance/Economics Council—joined forces to sponsor a debate on the topic “Is Health Care a Right?”. The disputants were myself and history professor Ted Brown, who graciously agreed to speak first at my request.

Listening or waiting to talk? [Comics]

Slippery Slope Goes Both Ways [Comics]