Thursday 26 April 2018

Dunning-Kruger Effect

We all know of people with an expanded view of their own importance, intelligence and abilities. They boast of what they can achieve and how easily they will accomplish said tasks. However, reality is generally not kind and they end up blaming an excruciating sequence of events, of course outside their control, which conspires to thwart their endeavours at every turn. They appear blissfully unaware of their innate stupidity and have no insight into how dense they really are. Indeed, their ignorance is a type of bliss that only a truly stupid person can endure. Typically, they overemphasise their 'intelligence' and are happy to tell all how smart they actually are. But as we know, smart folk don't have to tell anyone; their actions do that for them. Prudent folk have an appreciation of their limitations and act to redress those shortcomings or at least mitigate their impact.

Collectively, dumb people have a habit of believing in fantastic and grandiose schemes and concepts. They are easily drawn to conspiracy theories and alternative, so-called, therapies. They are willing to accept quite ridiculous propositions on the most flimsy of evidence or no rational evidence at all. 

This effect is known as the 'Dunning Kruger Effect' and is named after the two researchers who published a seminal study on the phenomenon back in 2005. Below is a graph illustrating how stupid people perceive themselves in comparison to competent individuals. Who would have thought that folk with low ability would fail to recognise their own ineptitude?      

A good example of this type of individual is the sub-group of contestants performing in the myriad of talent shows which besmirch and bespeckle our televisual programming on a Saturday evening. They caterwaul and prance clumsily on the stage watched by millions. They are oblivious to their obvious lack of talent. Tis excruciating on the senses and grates our very being into a thick frothy broth. Yet it is strangely compelling to watch. With the inevitable 'nil point' they appear genuinely aggrieved that the panel has failed to notice their singing prowess and strut off stage in bemused and surprised chagrin. They vocally avow their return next year when the experts will rue over today's lost opportunity to lavish a lucrative music contract upon their well-disposed bonces......    

Another, rather ridiculous example concerns the bank robber, MacArthur Wheeler, who squirted lemon juice on his face in the misguided assumption that it would render his features invisible to the bank's security cameras. He knew that lemon juice could be used as invisible ink and extrapolated from this principle. Sadly for MacArthur, his cunning ruse failed and he is currently incarcerated (no shit). This, of course, represents an extreme example. Not all stupid people are this dim.

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge"

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Friday 20 April 2018

Flaxen's Friday Rant of Doom

Political correctness is a disease that needs to be resisted with every fibre of our being. Tis cancer, a bitter cud that should be excised and destroyed. Why the will of a vocal minority be forced on the majority who sensibly despise the whole PC concept is an anathema to any free-born man. Tis an affront to our freedom of speech. A freedom that did not materialise overnight but is now a given right in a society which would deem itself civilised.

Much of this madness originates in our higher education institutions. A few ‘right on’ sociology Professors together with their student lackeys are keen to foist onto the student body and the University Administration their warped philosophy of intolerance. The idea that no one is to be offended, is obviously ridiculous.

What is particularly tragic is that higher education is perhaps the only time in an individual’s life where they will be subject to a range of diverse views. Views which challenge their cosy/rosy world of ‘reality’ and hopefully make the recipient think deeper about long-cherished ideas. Once out of college our instinct is to associate with our own; folk with a similar world outlook to ours which can lead to a form of intellectual atrophy. If we disagree with a speaker, then this should initiate debate and a free exchange of ideas without censure. To ban a speaker or upbraid someone because they are not in tune with your intellectual temper is a grievous sin. How can we form well-rounded and considered opinions on topics, various, if we are afraid to enunciate our thoughts? With every utterance, we create ‘victims’. Folk so divorced from reality that they run to a ‘safe space’ whenever someone disagrees with their world-view. Is this the society we crave? Are we to nurture a generation so disjointed from reality that they are socially paralysed when confronted with any perceived or real form of conflict? I'll leave my good readers to ponder and weep in equal measure.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Nibbles the Gerbil

Nibbles before his demise

I was sent a link concerning the demise of a certain gerbil, called Nibbles. The death of small rodents is generally not newsworthy. However, it was not the death of the gerbil which was deemed of note but the mode of his disposal. Most folk of a sentimental nature would shed a single tear as the small rodent disappeared down the toilet. At best the owners would have ensured that ‘Cuddles/Dimples/Fluffy/Truffles’ (delete as applicable) had slipped this mortal coil before consigning the creature to a watery grave. If you have a sick one it saves the mess of belting them to death with a hammer. A gentle drowning is infinitely preferable and doesn’t leave an unsightly stain on the carpet.

Anyway, when Nibbles, a denizen of Somerset England, popped his claws it was deemed that a more elaborate disposal was necessary. As the owners had pagan leanings it was decided to give the rapidly stiffening gerbil the dubious honour of a full Viking funeral. For those not familiar with a Norse funeral ritual then please read on and be agog. In times pagan, a Viking warrior would be laid out in full war regalia on a Viking longboat. The boat would contain pitch, tar, and kindling and set adrift on the frigid North Sea. At an appropriate moment, prominent warriors of the war band would unleash a volley of fire arrows into the boat causing a mass conflagration as it sailed majestically into deep water…….Frankly, I wouldn’t mind this for myself. No doubt my relatives could fashion a suitable vessel out of wooden pallets. My perfectly formed body, extra nipple notwithstanding, would be doused in petrol and I'd go off in a blaze of glory down the Birmingham to Dudley canal. I think I've digressed.

Getting back to Nibbles, the hapless gerbil. What the account doesn't mention is that soon after being cast adrift the flaming barge ran aground and the conveniently roasted body was immediately pounced upon by a clowder of feral cats. Poor Nibbles might have been a third-rate pet (gerbils are crap) but in death became a first-rate entree for Mittens and co. Thus are vicissitudes of death. 

Should have flushed the little bugger down the loo.   


Tuesday 10 April 2018

Universal Basic Income

Flaxen Sackson in repose

Below represents a ‘Guest Post’ from an ex-student of mine. He normally comments under the name, Flaxen Sackson. The implication being that he is my actual biological son. This may be the case as I recall meeting his mother one dark Tipton night 26 years ago. Please note, the paternity test is pending.

Anyway, he has decided to offer the following article for publication on this esteemed site- may Woden forgive him, for he shall receive no forgiveness from my readers.

Needless to say, what follows is solely the considered opinion of my bastard seed and in no way represents my own viewpoint. This prose piece is proffered in the spirit of ‘freedom of speech’ and therefore I expect well thought out and polite responses. Be gentle and play nice. Arse.    

Money is the root of all evil.  It also happens to make the world go around, which is a rather unfortunate design oversight.  It is necessary for survival, if you don’t have a plot of land, adequate shelter (that you don’t have to pay exorbitant rent for), a steady source of fresh water, and the wherewithal to grow and cook your own food.  So what would happen if the government gave out free, unconditional money to every citizen or permanent resident of their country?

1 Yeah, never going to happen
Universal basic income (hereforthwith referred to as UBI because I’m lazy) is often thought of as an alternative to welfare – but there is still considerable indecision over what it is, or how to implement it.  The two most common camps are UBI as a replacement for all forms of welfare, versus UBI that can be supplemented by welfare.  In both these cases, the income is just enough to keep you over the poverty line – i.e. a barely liveable wage.  Ideally, this would be supplemented by an additional income, but it would be enough to keep you fed if you were out of work.   Some entitled millenials think UBI should provide enough income that seeking employment should be unnecessary, which just sounds like a pipe dream.

The idea of a basic income was raised as early as the 18th century by English radicals, because who wouldn’t want free money?  The discussion has become a lot more heated since the 2010s, mostly because the robotic uprising means many jobs have been lost to automation.  The idea of Saxon’s 15-hour work week seems less sweet when the mortgage payments aren’t getting any lower.  The main argument for UBI is that it would lower, or entirely eradicate, poverty in a way that our current welfare systems do not.  This is because current welfare systems come with a lot of hoops to jump through, all of which are designed to make unemployment figures look a little less bad.  They are also susceptible to the poverty trap – if you have welfare plus a job, then any raise in salary can often be taken out of your welfare, meaning you make the same (or occasionally less) amount of money than before.  This disincentivises effort, and gives way to the “lazy welfare” stereotype.  Because its amount is static per person, it also prevents breeding simply to receive more welfare – the downstream impact of this could quite literally save humanity.  The fact that everybody receives this income could have a positive effect on how people view those on welfare – one established gentleman I talked to complained about how their money was going to buy cigarettes for the lower class.  Of course, if the baby boomers hadn’t ruined the world’s economy, bought up all the decent land, and are just refusing to die, maybe there would be enough to go around.

   2 Not that I'm bitter or anything
The biggest question that is raised when UBI is involved is “where will the money come from?”.  The first solution is to dissolve other forms of welfare, and combine all their funding into UBI.  While this helps, the number often falls far short of what is necessary.  Increasing the tax rate is a less popular, but effective idea.  A basic income has been trialled in Finland, with potentially positive initial results, but over there the tax rate is above 50%.  Of course, raising the tax rate is always a pleasant experience, and is generally well-received by the populace (please note – this is sarcasm).  On a side note, raising taxes for the “rich” could be a plausible alternative.  Or it could be, if not for the failures of capitalism placing the power of the government in the hands of said individuals (easy, Sack’s Son).  In any case, taking money from those with too much and giving it to everybody else sounds familiar… 

All in all, the Universal Basic Income is an idea.  Whether good or bad, we don’t know yet.  It needs to be experimented upon, implemented in different ways, and thoroughly tested before it can either be widely used or completely discarded.  In this age of automation and increasing unemployment, people need something they can fall back on.  Personally, I think it’s a hopeful idea.  Once the previous generation eventually carks it, we millenials can finally focus on increasing automation and lowering costs, repairing the damage to the ecosystems, and bringing the world into a new Golden Age for the next baby boomers to destroy (arse).

Sunday 1 April 2018

Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Autism is one of those conditions which was virtually unheard of 60 years ago but modern diagnostic criteria now classify 1 in 45 in the Western world, as autistic. Contrast this figure with the incidence recognised in the 1970s, of 1 in 2,000. Could it be that the condition has become easier and more efficiently diagnosed? Perhaps we have broadened the range of behaviours that are included? Could it be down to zealous clinicians over-diagnosing the condition? Perhaps the real incidence of autism is increasing by causes and agents, unknown?

 I’ll come back to this vexed question later. Terminology for autism has changed quite recently. Autism and Asperger syndrome are lumped into the inclusive ‘Autistic Spectrum Disorder’, or ASD. The interesting part of the terminology is the spectrum bit. It implies that a wide set of disparate/ desperate clinical criteria are involved. And we are not to be disappointed. Thus a child with profound intellectual deficit with no or very little speech can be easily inserted into the spectrum. So can a child with a high IQ. In this case, the gifted child will have accompanying social interaction problems together with obsessive repetitive behaviours. What a curious condition autism has become. To my mind, these two quite different clinical presentations represent two completely separate entities. Of course, if you insert the word, ‘spectrum’ this solves the apparent incongruity, or does it?  Clever physicians are apt to call this sort of thing, ‘Clinical heterogeneity’, but they would say that, wouldn't they?

From a genetic perspective, ASD is representative of a ‘multifactorial disorder’. Classically this describes a condition where several/many genes are involved. Although the cynically minded might contend that it represents a technical term for: ‘we have no bloody idea’. Regardless, there is no doubt that genetics plays a major role in the development of autism. Like the clinical classification, the genetics is considered heterogeneous. Furthermore, an ‘environmental trigger’ may be required in certain instances. Evidence indicates that in a minority of cases, the environment is paramount in eliciting the condition, especially during pregnancy. Autism mediated through environmental factors does not necessarily rule out the involvement of some form of genetic predisposing factor(s). 

So why is ASD so common nowadays in comparison to the recent past and is the increase 'real' or just a matter of semantics? As mentioned, the diagnostic criteria have undergone extensive rework recently and there seems little doubt that it has become more inclusive. Children and adults who were previously diagnosed with developmental delay or intellectual retardation are now considered part of the autistic spectrum. That said, the change in diagnosis cannot explain all of the increase in reported cases. When we look at the 'incidence plot' since 1975 to date we see something very interesting. The incidence does not show a smooth linear increase. What we observe is an exponential increase. In other words, the rate of increase is accelerating over time. If this rate is maintained the incidence of autism will become 50% by 2020. And there are doom-laden sayers who predict such a scenario. Of course, because the incidence exhibits an exponential rise currently it is not necessarily the case that this rate of increase will continue. Sensible clinicians and scientists predict a plateau.

Environmental factors may be at play although experts get increasingly vague when asked to cite these factors. It has been noted that premature babies are at a higher risk of autism. Today, in the First World at least, the survival rate for premature babies has increased dramatically. However, this influence would only account for a relatively small number of newly diagnosed cases. It is speculated that older parents may be to blame. Certainly, in the West, we are seeing a skewed parenthood demographic. Sensible folk are delaying parenthood possibly due to career choices and career pressures. A whole host of agents have been considered, such as the rise of the internet, GMO, pesticides, and vaccines. Graphs are readily produced showing a correlation between a given substance and the increase in autism. But correlation is not causation and for the most part, we are totally ignorant to why autism is on the apparent rise.

One thing is sure, vaccines do not cause autism, no matter how many undereducated celebs say yea. The fraudulent work by Dr. Wakefield, suggesting a link, has been thoroughly discredited. I'll cover this distressing story in a future post. Sadly, there are folk out there who take note of deluded celebs and bestow a verity to their ramblings which they do not deserve. The celebs in question are not qualified medics or scientists and they have not critically scrutinised the peer-reviewed literature on the subject. Thus the weight of their pontifications should count as chaff and add no mass to the debate in question. But their baleful influence on the gullible general public has been profound and has resulted in the increase of serious diseases in Western countries. For this, they must bear the burden of blame.