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My brain, it's like a spaghetti machine! - Tactical Ninja

Feb. 22nd, 2013

09:41 am - My brain, it's like a spaghetti machine!

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OK so when you're eating an apple, do you find that one end of the apple tastes different from the other? If so, in what way are they different? Enquiring minds want to know..


I know we're wired to see patterns and make inferences from them and that we do it even when there aren't any and that's why conspiracy theories exist and that conspiracy theorists are generally seen to be at the deluded end of the thinking continuum, but really? What is up here?

Last night I went to this public lecture about some of the issues that occur in the use of evidence to create policy.

Cue a giant *yawn* from lots of people. And yeah, it wasn't all that exciting, unless you get a thrill from watching an elderly white man talk. It seemed to be very much an introduction to the issues and was pitched at what I would consider to be 101 level, but he did say some interesting stuff. The only note I made says this:

"Inferential gap between scientific knowledge and its policy implications. This is the area where values, beliefs, electoral concerns, public opinion, etc, are overlaid."

So what? That's not exactly news either, right? But he was talking about the way in which in NZ in particular, this inferential gap is a real problem in terms of policy creation. His suggestion to improve the situation was to have a Science Advisor in every Ministry, even the ones that don't seem to intuitively need one, and to consider doing limited empirical field trials of policy solutions before implementation.

Anyway, one of the topics he touched on was the way in which values, beliefs and inherent biases affect research at the presentation of findings stage, and also at the research design stage, and that New Zealand in particular (compared with other 'small advanced' economies such as Denmark, Finland, Singapore, Israel* and Ireland) suffers from a lack of a robust peer-review process for research undertaken by government (as opposed to academic research). He cited studies being completed and then going into filing cabinets in Ministry offices and never being seen again.

Like I said, nothing all that new here. But it tickled my brain, because last weekend one of the new people I talked to is big into open government, and I plied him with questions about implementation of that, and he talked a lot about the necessity to democracy of an informed public, and thus focusing on ways to make data as open as possible as well.

And then there was yesterday's conversation in which it was established (in my head anyway) that even in a rigorous environment such as science, the quality of work or the perception of quality of work is vulnerable to the influence of values, beliefs, etc.

And that came from the conversation earlier this week in which we established that part of the problem with the performance I'd watched was the historical context making the themes appear to be somewhat immature - the world's moved on from there and it's no longer relevant or shocking.

So what? I hear you say again.

Well, all these things have been mashing around in my head, along with my growing understanding that it's not the opinion of the politicians I have to change regarding drug policy, it's the opinion of the public. Increasingly, those already in the corridors of power are aware that the war on drugs has failed, but none will admit it publicly because it's political suicide. It's political suicide because policy around drugs has been created and maintained in an environment where values, beliefs, and electoral concerns have jumped into the policy process far too early - they have filled the inferential gap Gluckman was talking about to the point where in many cases, the data doesn't even get a look in. And Open Data dude is very interested in making sure the data gets a look in in the field of public opinion before that gap gets filled with other things.

I am interested in being in on this - let's just say it's relevant to my interests.

So while the guy last night was talking about the policy process as a whole, I think where I want to focus is on the bit where public opinion influences that process, and how to address the lack of informed public opinion in my own field, which seems to be the stumbling block for the creation of better drug policy.

So, brainy folks, how do we stop the apparatus of ideology from corrupting data before the general public get to see it? How do we ensure that data presented to the public is a) as objective as possible in itself and b) presented in a way that is as free from biases as possible? I don't think science advisors to ministers will fix this problem, so what will? No pressure..

Also, the questions at the end were.. um. One guy wanted to know what scientific advice the speaker (who is science advisor to our PM) had given the PM on same sex marriage**, and another person thought that if Ministries had science advisors then they should also have religious advisors to provide guidance on values and ethics. Which kind of made me feel a bit hopeless about public opinion being guided by objective critical thinking, you know?

* Incidentally, Israel is one of the countries that is leading the human trials for MDMA-assisted PTSD therapy. They have completed screening for their first subject.

** The answer was 'none, because that is not a scientific issue'.


This morning's conversation, paraphrased:

Me: *prodprodprod* Wake up and teach me programming!
Him: *blear* Ubuhduh?
Me: *bouncebounce* Int! I think I worked out what it means in concept and now I think I can apply it in other contexts and I'm excited about this so you have to tell me if I'm right!
Him: *obliges* *spends next 20 minutes discussing programming concepts*
Me: I WUV U

Reason number 753 that Dr Wheel is awesome - sleep ---> complex abstract discussions in less than 2 minutes. Also, yes, anyone who knows programming will now know exactly how much of a noob I really am. I have no shame.

Tonight = haircut! I am vaccillating between cutting and keeping, but leaning towards cutting. We'll see how it goes when Paul puts in his recommendation. Dude's never given me a bad haircut and I trust his judgement lots.

Comments:

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From:dreadbeard
Date:February 21st, 2013 10:05 pm (UTC)
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"how do we stop the apparatus of ideology from corrupting data before the general public get to see it?"

There you run into persuasion and propaganda (in this sense a neutral term to describe the mass communication process.) The short answer is, you don't, you just have less corruption, or corruption of a style that suits your ideology.

Munitions of the Mind by Philip Taylor is a stimulating overview of how this has been achieved from ancient times onward.

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From:tatjna
Date:February 21st, 2013 10:09 pm (UTC)
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Seems to me that this problem is why Open Data Dude and Gluckman up there were both quite hot on making sure information is widely peer reviewed, although their ideas for how to make that happen seemed a bit different.

Some of the questions touched on the corruptability of the peer review process, but it seems nobody's come up with a better way of ensuring information is critically assessed for 'objectivity' before distribution.
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From:dreadbeard
Date:February 21st, 2013 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, peer review is good in theory. But as ever, who watches the watchmen.
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From:dreadbeard
Date:February 21st, 2013 10:11 pm (UTC)
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Even totally open data is biased, in the sense that people have differential ability to access that data, time to evaluate it, and the ability or training to interpret it. Thus a different society is almost necessary to allow for it to be functional in the way intended.

In the absence of that, some framing becomes necessary. And no framing is neutral of ideology etc...
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From:tatjna
Date:February 21st, 2013 10:35 pm (UTC)
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Well yes, I'd already got to the 'what he said' part of this discussion by myself - which is why all the preamble conversations got a mention in this post.

And while I recognise that this is a cycle and that what you're talking about up there is about influencing the ideology of the cycle rather than preventing ideology from influencing anything (because it's accepted that that's impossible), I'm more interested in a lower-level, practical application of all that wonking.

Where I want to stick my spoke into that wheel is in the place where the research that was used to prohibit BZP went from 'presents a moderate risk of these not-very-serious effects' to 'makes people go into a coma' in the public eye. Or where 'the autopsy found that the deceased had consumed X,Y, Z substances' to 'BZP claims another victim' in the headlines. I'm interested in how that happens, with a view to making it happen less often, or in a less extreme way.
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From:dreadbeard
Date:February 22nd, 2013 12:17 am (UTC)
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Stories are the secret reservoir of values: change the stories individuals or nations live by and you change the individuals and nations themselves. - Ben Okri
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From:tatjna
Date:February 21st, 2013 10:38 pm (UTC)
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I haven't been thinking of them as numbers, I've been thinking of them as concepts. Because those things you talk about up there, the ring buffers and other arcane-sounding things, are all just words to describe a concept and so is int.

So if I get the concepts, then the rest is just learning syntax. Which is why I was so excited about int (being something of a metaconcept) that I woke up Dr Wheel this morning to talk about it.
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From:tatjna
Date:February 21st, 2013 11:20 pm (UTC)
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Pretty much. And one of the things I am really appreciating about Dr Wheel's bleary-eyed explanations is his way of using said semantics. I have lost the terminology (cos of only having heard it mentioned once), but this morning he described a way of using arrays that - in my mind anyway - seemed to address something I was concerned about in talking to as many LEDs as I'll have, by talking to them in groups. I'm a bit unclear on it, never having used any arrays for anything ever and having yet to make even one LED do anything, but I am recognising that this programming business is less about what words you use and more about how you think.

And how Dr Wheel thinks is .. efficient. He seems to be good at finding concise ways of expressing things in this context and I'm all "I want to lick your brain now!"

Also, I was wondering how you did that. Bookmarking for reference when I've a few more clues.
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From:kehleyr
Date:February 21st, 2013 10:58 pm (UTC)
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You are too brainy for me today :-).
Also your hubby is awesome :-) (so are you!!!)
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From:tatjna
Date:February 21st, 2013 11:05 pm (UTC)
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But but but... nobody has answered my question about the apples! And that was the most important part of the post!

Dr Wheel is indeed awesome, and by the time I've strung all the #reasons together, I reckon I'd have a book called "A thousand reasons to love Dr Wheel."

Which would be mushy. <3
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From:kehleyr
Date:February 21st, 2013 11:15 pm (UTC)
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You know, I peel my Apples and cut them up into smaller pieces because I find them to be tastier like that... So I don't know if the taste becomes different. I think I have to try one tomorrow and find out :-).
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From:bekitty
Date:February 21st, 2013 11:26 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I find that once you get to one end of an Apple, the cables get stuck in my teeth. I suppose it really depends on which device you're snacking on, though....

... oh, you mean the fruit? :D

The non-stalky end tastes different to the rest of the apple. Sharper, possibly? More flavourful? Not necessarily sweeter, though it really depends on the type of apple and how ripe it is.
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From:pombagira
Date:February 21st, 2013 11:18 pm (UTC)
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hmm apples... ok.. gets beaker and lab coat...

so because of the variation of colour that is found on the skin, it is not uncommon to find slight variation in the flavour in one apple. this is variation in flavour is generally only picked up by people with more taste-buds on the right back of their tongue, than on the left front. scientists believe that this skill was developed to enable the early caveman to make better cider to promote good health and a happy relaxed community.

*puts beaker down and takes lab coat off*

of course you may of just run into a bruised bit? or a worm, they can make an apple taste different...

todays episode of science was brought to you by a flaming hippy yo!
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From:tatjna
Date:February 21st, 2013 11:22 pm (UTC)
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Nah, it's all apples, and I find that on the stalk end they are more watery and on the weird blobbly bit end with the brown scabby thing, they are more tart. I was wondering if anyone else had noticed.
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From:pombagira
Date:February 21st, 2013 11:39 pm (UTC)
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hmm.. i can't say that i have noticed.. however i wonder if it has something to do with how it is grown.. cause in my mind the brown cabby thing would kinda be the oldest bit, as in the middle of the blossom?

*ponders this*
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From:anna_en_route
Date:February 22nd, 2013 01:51 am (UTC)
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See now I would say they were sweeter towards the brown scabby thing but then I'm only dealing with Royal Gala (or sometimes Eve).

I could see species making a difference
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From:tatjna
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:11 am (UTC)
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That seems like a plausible explanation, I'm going with that! ;-)
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From:laughingmagpie
Date:February 22nd, 2013 04:40 pm (UTC)
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I second this hypothesis. There's been more time for sugar-making in the older end.

Also the sweeter on the outside might be something to do with a bit of photosynthesis happening in the skin with some osmosis of that extra sugar into the flesh below.
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From:tatjna
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:12 am (UTC)
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OK that's a new one - next apple I eat is going to be thoroughly dissected!
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From:rivet
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:54 am (UTC)
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There may be a taste equivalent of semantic satiation. But that's just me talking out my arse because I haven't even tried google.
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From:bekitty
Date:February 21st, 2013 11:21 pm (UTC)
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How do you influence the wider public to your point of view? Simple. You get the media on your side. Influencing the media was how the so-called "war on drugs" started.

An astounding number of people believe everything they read in the papers, and moreso if it's also parroted on TV. Really. I mean, there are people out there who firmly believe that Fox News is telling them the truth about everything.
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From:tatjna
Date:February 22nd, 2013 12:59 am (UTC)
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I'm not convinced that getting the media on your side is that simple, eh? And even if it was, I'm pretty sure it's more complex that that. For example, scientific press releases are often ambiguous - thinking here of that one that led a whole lot of quite neutral news outlets to report that Antarctica is getting cooler (and thus a whole bunch of the public to doubt climate change), when in fact that is not the case.

And then there's education as an apparatus of ideology as well. And the failure of some evidence to make it to the media at all, because someone's values interfered between the production of data and its distribution.

So yeah, definitely the media, but not just the media, and some of it happens before the media. I'm interested in that place.
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From:richdrich
Date:February 22nd, 2013 03:04 am (UTC)
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The media does what it does for a reason.

Most of the media is owned by rich people and corporates, and the bit that isn't tends to follow narratives defined by the first.

The rich people and corporates want their media assets to:
a) make them some money or at least not lose it too quickly
b) influence public opinion in their favour

Reinforcing prejudice is a proven way to sell more copies/eyeballs and achieve (a). Reinforcing prejudice that doesn't impact the rich, such as attacking drug users achieves (b).

So you can get where you want by:
- encouraging the process of decline in paid media, so that we move to a free/online media world with fewer barriers to entry and a wider range of views
- convince the rich that selling legalized drugs is the way to wealth in the 21st century and they should align their media assets accordingly
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From:tatjna
Date:February 22nd, 2013 08:16 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I read the paper. It seemed to me that the paper was quite clear about what was happening, but whoever wrote the press release about the paper got the wrong end of the stick, and made it sufficiently unclear that media misinterpretation/presumption was easy to do.

It was one of the examples Dan used last year.
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From:tatjna
Date:February 22nd, 2013 01:00 am (UTC)

Re: Also relevant

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He doesn't have two inches to get off. And I'm thinking of more like FOUR inches.

Take that, Crying Bald Guy!
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From:anna_en_route
Date:February 22nd, 2013 01:53 am (UTC)
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Awwwww, lightbulb moments in programming are awesome!


I'm currently helping my partner get to grips with SQL which is really fun.
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From:tatjna
Date:February 22nd, 2013 01:56 am (UTC)
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I get the feeling it's something that will have an increasing number of lightbulb moments until the point where I feel vaguely competent, and will then be followed by a lot of headdesking till I'm actually competent, as I try to do things that are still beyond my ability. ;-)
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From:pundigrion
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:29 am (UTC)
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I only notice a difference in apple varieties, not on different regions on a given apple. I like Russets the best.

I think it is partly a failure of the educational system to teach critical thinking and to value logical and science. For instance, there used to be a water tower on our hill. For some reason, someone got in their head that it was ugly and needed to come down completely. It did need repairs, but not to the extant that a new tower would be cheaper. Multiple scientists and experts were called in and gave the council a report which basically boiled down to the water tower absolutely still being serviceable and that our neighborhood was likely to have troubles with water pressure without it, particularly in the summer. *One* expert disagreed and said he thought the pressure would be fine...not one of the water guys but the structural engineer who was called in to say if the tower was still sound. Guess whos opinion the council chose to go with? (Oh, and that guy agreed the tower was sound with a couple of repairs) Sure enough we are having pressure trouble!
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From:tatjna
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:33 am (UTC)
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I have a stock rant about the education system's failure to teach critical thinking and how that's related to class sizes, which normally ends in how I'm a filthy socialist and some muttering about state agendas and pedagogy.

But I agree, it would be much more useful for our overall wellbeing for kids to learn how to think instead of what to think.
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From:pundigrion
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:37 am (UTC)
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Well obviously I must be one since I moved from 'merica to RED CANADA!

The class sizes aren't even too bad here and the educational system is certainly better than where I am from....but still we get crap like that happening. Don't even get me started on the issues with light rail or building a pedestrian bridge that was already completely funded by donations....
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From:tatjna
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:40 am (UTC)
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I will see your pedestrian bridge and raise you an unnecessary flyover (instead of light rail).

I'm pretty sure we copied a lot of our education system from Canada. But nowadays I think the government wants to go down the same educational gurgler as the US. They are trialling charter schools. To which I go NOOOOOOOoooooooo....
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From:pundigrion
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:46 am (UTC)
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Oh no, I was all for the bridge! It beat the alternative of walking on the highway bridge with no sidewalk by a long shot and connects two riverside trails together. The council didn't want to give them the permit even though they had paid for the environmental assessment and passed that and were completely self-funded because people kept complaining it would "cost too much". It took them 12, yes twelve! years to build the bridge. The city still did not have to pay anything by the end. The main obstacle was a golf course that didn't want the pedestrian bridge near the edge of their property. NIMBYs...and of course the McMansions next to the golf course. I still am boggled that the main complaint was the cost...of a free bridge.
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From:tatjna
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:49 am (UTC)
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Ah right. Can't wait to see what happens if anyone wants to build a windfarm in your area...
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From:pundigrion
Date:February 22nd, 2013 02:54 am (UTC)
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Oh my giddy aunt the windfarm controversies!

Yeah, we get those every time any windmills go up and of course they keep protesting even afterwards. The biggest complaint they are trying to lodge about them (other than cost of course, because everything is about cost here even if it makes you money....) is noise. (These would also be the two things they think are wrong with getting light rail actually.)

Never mind that you can stand right under the current ones and barely hear them go woosh lightly over your head even on a fairly windy day. I know, I've done it myself just to see what they were on about!
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From:coyotegoth
Date:February 22nd, 2013 07:55 am (UTC)
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The base is often sweeter.
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