Posts Tagged‘bullshit’

Everything About Gamergate Needs to Die.

I’m fucking fed up.

Fuck Gamergate

I’m fed up with the fact that I can’t go  a week without a female gaming icon getting harassed to the point where she has to leave her house. I’m pissed off that rational discourse broke down so quickly that all anyone talks about now is the hate. I hate the fact that I, as your stereotypical male gamer, feel like I’m responsible for all this shit despite the fact that I treat every female gamer like any other gamer. I’m fucking tired of feeling like all I can do is stay silent and try to be a good member of the community so I can lead by example, just like the countless others I play games with on a daily basis. So fuck it, I’ll paint a target on my back by calling out both sides of the argument for the shit they’ve flung in the wrong directions and hopefully I’ll convince someone that everything about this whole controversy needs to die a fucking swift death.

The one thing I’m going to abstain from doing is going over what sparked this (every recount of what happened to get us to this point is so charged with bullshit swinging one way or the other) and if you’re reading this you likely have your own idea of what the fuck is going on. So instead of getting off on the wrong foot here, although I’ve already likely done that with the first paragraph, I’ll just dive into the meat of what I think needs to happen here and then you can all feel free to flame/dox/death threat me in the comments.

If you’re one of the cadre who backs the idea that Gamergate is about ethics in games journalism then there’s really one thing, and only one thing, you need to do: stop fucking using the Gamergate term. No matter how good you think you are at dodging all the hate, bullshit and utterly atrocious actions of a minority of people you’re never going to rise above the rabble that they’ve managed to generate. There’s a larger debate in there that could have some wide reaching ramifications for how games sites handle their relationships with publishers and developers and it’s one I think still needs to be had. However should you go charging in brandishing the Gamergate tag as your source of inspiration all you’re doing is giving credance to those assholes who use the same platform as a place to spread their hate.

In fact I have no fucking idea why anyone who’s actually interested in having a rational debate about these matters even hold onto the tag at this point. I mean it’s not like we can’t create a new one #fuckingEthics or something like that and use it instead, what’s the point of holding onto a term that only gets press when it runs someone from their home? We may not be responsible for the people who are peddling this bullshit but fuck me, we can decry the label as one that’s been mutilated in only perpetrating hate and continue the conversation that needs to be had somewhere else.

The anti-Gamergate crew isn’t entirely blameless in this whole shitpile though as they’ve often lumped the wider gaming community in with hatemongers. Look a minority of people causing a shitstorm in the larger group is nothing new to the world and it is not fair to anyone in that group if you tar them all with the same brush. If we’re going to ascribe that kind of thinking to everything we might as well just assume all Muslims are terrorists and start treating them all as if they were. The hard and fast fact here is that whilst yes, the hate peddlers of Gamergate identify themselves as gamers, they are not representative of the whole and it does us all a great injustice to think that.

I know anecdotes don’t mean much in the larger scale of things but I’ve always tried to be inclusive of women in the games I play with them along with supporting titles that feature strong female characters as leads. I had a look through my reviews of this year and whilst, yes, they’re primarily filled with lead male protagonists a good half of them allowed you to choose your gender with half a dozen or so featuring what I’d consider a well written female lead. However if you formed your opinion of me based on the fact that I’m an (almost) 30 year old white male who spends an inordinate amount of time playing games and all you had was the Gamergate controversy to go on you’d figure I’m just another fucking misogynist hellbent on ensuring the female race stays out of my games.

Just…fucking no, that’s not me at all.

I want to do my part to stop this kind of shit from happening but there are some larger conversations I want to continue in spite of the hate. Hell I don’t think it’s too much to ask, I consulted with my journo friends when I first started getting offered game copies for reviewing and got great lessons on full disclosure, but it seems like maybe now isn’t the right time. What needs to happen now is for everyone to put a bullet in the Gamergate tag and then anyone who brandishes afterwards can be rightly labelled the peddler of hate that they are. Then, once it’s dead and buried, we can resurrect the conversation about journalistic ethics without the bullshit. I have no fucking idea if that will work or not, it probably won’t, but one thing is clear, everything about Gamergate needs to die right fucking now.

The NBN Cost Benefit Analysis is a Steaming Pile of Horeshit.

There seems to be this small section of my brain that’s completely disconnected from reality. At every turn with the Liberal’s and the NBN it’s been the part of my head that’s said “Don’t worry, I’m sure Turnbull and co will be honest this time around” and every single time it has turned out to be wrong. At every turn these “independent” reports have been stacked with personnel that all have vested interests in seeing Turnbull’s views come to light no matter how hard they have to bend the facts in order to do so. Thus all the reports that have come out slamming Labor’s solution are not to be trusted and the latest report, the vaulted cost benefit analysis that the Liberals have always harped on about, is a another drop on the gigantic turd pile that is the Liberal’s NBN.

HERNRER ERGERS

The problems with this cost-benefit analysis started long before the actual report was released. Late last year Turnbull appointed Henry Ergas as the head of the panel of experts that would be doing the cost-benefit analysis. The problem with this appointment is that he’d already published many pieces on the NBN before which where not only critical of the NBN but were also riddled with factual inaccuracies. So his opinion of the NBN was already well known prior to starting this engagement and thus he was not capable of providing a truly independent analysis, regardless of how he might want to present it. However in the interests of fairness (even though Turnbull won’t be doing so) let’s judge the report on it’s merits so we can see just how big this pile of horseshit is.

The report hinges primarily on a metric called “Willingness to Pay (WTP)” which is what Australians would be willing to pay for higher broadband speeds. The metric is primarily based around data gathered by the Institute for Choice which surveyed around 3,000 Australians about their current broadband usage and then showed them some alternative plans that would be available under the NBN. Problem is the way these were presented were not representative of all the plans available nor did they factor in things like the speed not being guaranteed on FTTN vs guaranteed speed on FTTP. So essentially all this was judging was people’s willingness to change to another kind of plan and honestly was not reflective of whether or not they’d want to pay more for higher broadband speeds.

Indeed this is even further reflected in the blended rate of probabilities used to determine the estimation of benefits with a 50% weighting applied to the Institute for Choice data and a 25% modifier to the other data (take-up demand and technical bandwidth demand) which, funnily enough, find in favour of the FTTP NBN solution. Indeed Table I makes it pretty clear that whenever there was multiple points of data the panel of experts decided to swing the percentages in ways that were favourable to them rather than providing an honest view of the data that they had. If the appointment of a long anti-NBN campaigner wasn’t enough to convince you this report was a total farce then this should do the trick.

However what really got me about this report was summed up perfectly in this quote:

The panel would not disclose the costs of upgrading [to] FTTP compared with other options, which were redacted from the report, citing “commercial confidentiality associated with NBN Co’s proprietary data”.

What the actual fuck.

So a completely government owned company is citing commercial in confidence for not disclosing data in a report that was commissioned by the government? Seriously, what the fuck are you guys playing at here? It’s obvious that if you included the cost of upgrading a FTTN network to FTTP, which has been estimated to cost at least $21 billion extra, then the cost-benefit would swing wildly in the direction of FTTP. Honestly I shouldn’t be surprised at this point as the report has already taken every step possible to avoid admitting that a FTTP solution is the better option. Hiding the upgrade cost, which by other reports commissioned by the Liberals is to be required in less than 5 years after completion of their FTTN NBN, is just another fact they want they want to keep buried.

Seriously, fuck everything about Turnbull and his bullshit. They’ve commissioned report after report, done by people who have vested interests or are in Turnbull’s favour, that have done nothing to reflect the reality of what the NBN was and what it should be. This is just the latest heaping on the pile, showcasing that the Liberals have no intention of being honest nor implementing a solution that’s to the benefit of all Australians. Instead they’re still focused on winning last year’s election and we’re all going to suffer because of it.

Bring Your Torches and Your Pitchforks, It’s Time To Burn a Broadband Network.

Governments often avoid long term policy goals for fear of never seeing them completed. This unfortunately means that large infrastructure projects fall by the wayside as it’s unlikely that they’ll be finished in a single term, leaving a potential political win on the table for an incoming government. The National Broadband Network then was something of an oddity, forced into being due to the lack of interest the private sector showed in building it (despite heavy government funding) it was one of the few examples of a multi-term policy that would have tangible benefits for all Australians. Like any big project it had its issues but I, and many others, still thought it was worth the investment.

Torches and PitchforksIf you were to believe the Liberal’s rhetoric of the past couple years however you’d likely be thinking otherwise. Whilst the initial  volleys launched at the NBN were mostly focused on the fact that it was an expensive ploy by Labor to buy votes it soon metastasised into a fully fledged attack that had little rhyme or reason. It’s ultimate form was the Liberal’s FTTN NBN, a policy which many saw as a half hearted attempt to placate Liberal voters who saw the NBN as an expensive Labor policy whilst trying to retain the tech vote which they had spent so many years losing. After they got into government however many of us, myself included, thought that it was all a load of hot air and that they’d simply continue with the current NBN plan, possibly with someone else building it.

Oh how wrong we all were.

I mentioned last week that Turnbull needed to start listening to the evidence that was piling up that the FTTP NBN was the way to go, figuring that the unbiased strategic review would find in favour of it given the large body of evidence saying so. However the report was anything but saying that the current NBN plan was woefully behind schedule and would likely end up costing almost 50% more than it was currently expected to. The new NBNCo board then recommended a plan of action that looked frightfully similar to that of the Liberal’s FTTN NBN, even touting the same party lines of faster, cheaper and sooner. Needless to say I have some issues with, not least of which is the fact that it seems to be wildly out of touch with reality.

For starters I find it extremely hard to believe that NBNCo, a highly transparent company who’s financials have been available for scrutiny for years, would be unaware of a cost blow out exceeding some $28 billion. The assumption for the cost blow out seems to stem from an ill formed idea that the cost per premise will increase over time, something which is the exact opposite of reality. There also seems to be a major disconnect between the Liberal’s figures on take up rates and plan speeds which makes it appear like there’s a huge hole in the revenue that NBNCo would hope to generate. Indeed if we look at the 2013-2016 corporate plan the figures in there are drastically different to the ones the review is using, signalling that either NBNCo was lying about it (which they weren’t) or the strategic review is deliberately using misleading figures to suit an agenda.

I won’t mince words here as it’s clear that many aspects of the review have a political agenda behind them. The $28 billion blowout in the FTTP NBN seems to have been calculated to make the $11 billion increase in peak funding for the Liberal’s NBN seem a lot more palatable, even though its cost is now basically the same as the original costings for the FTTP NBN. Honestly we should have expected this when the majority of the new NBNCo board is staffed with former executives from telcos who have large investments in Hybrid Fiber Coaxial networks, something which the new NBN will be on the hook for (even though the Liberals seem to think they’ll get those for free).

In short the review is laughable, an exercise in fudging numbers to suit a political agenda that has absolutely zero groundings in reality. The end of it is that we, the Internet users of Australia, will get horrendously screwed with outdated technology that will have to be replaced eventually anyway and at a cost that will far exceed that of a pure FTTP solution. Of course it’s now clear that it was never Turnbull’s intention to do a fair and honest review and was only interested in being given evidence to support his skewed view of technology.

 

Vaccination Exemptions Are Complete Bullshit.

I have to try hard to avoid the echo chamber I find myself in sometimes where the combination of my like minded friends, carefully tailored RSS feed and social media network can easily warp my view of the larger world. It’s for that reason specifically that I often find myself diving deep into opinions that disagree with my own, seeing if there’s any merit to the opposite side of the story. Sometimes this leads to amazing insights and there have been times when I’ve had to do a completely 180 on a long held stance because of it (climate change being the best example I can think of). One subject that hasn’t been changed by doing so is vaccinations, despite the torrent of “evidence” that anti-vaxers have heaped on my blog.

Vaccinations

What really annoys me though is the pandering that the Australian government continually engages in with people who disagree with hard, scientific evidence. Initially this was due to the conscientious objector exemption for those who didn’t want to vaccinate and also didn’t want to lose their Family Tax benefit. Realistically it only punishes the stupid and lazy, not those who have deliberately decided not to vaccinate because of some belief that doesn’t hold up to casual scrutiny. Further reading suggests that this is exactly who the legislation was meant to target, those who are simply not responsible enough to get their children vaccinated unless they’re threatened with a loss of benefits. Whilst I’m sure that number is non-zero I still feel the legislation doesn’t go far enough as it doesn’t solve the underlying issue of anti-vaxers chipping away at herd immunity which puts everyone at risk.

Indeed when I first heard about the No Jab, No Play legislation that was coming in for NSW I thought we might be in for some real change as initially I didn’t hear of any exemptions past medical (which can be legitimate) and religion. However it seems like it will include the same dreaded exemption on “philosophical” grounds, essentially giving parents an out should they not want to vaccinate as long as they sit in a doctor’s office and ignore them for 30 minutes. This completely nullifies the point of the legislation as I’d hazard a guess that the rate of people who just plain forgot is far lower than those who are actively avoided vaccinations due to beliefs that can’t be backed up by anything more than a gut feeling.

Realistically I believe there should be no exemptions at all, regardless of your religious or philosophical point of view. The reason for this is simple: we have a responsibility to not endanger the health of others and refusing to vaccinate, for whatever reason, puts this at risk. There’s a very small percentage of people who can’t be vaccinated for sound medical reasons and they’re put at an ever increasing amount of danger by those who simply choose not to. This is not a matter of your beliefs only affecting yourself (something which I have no problem with) as your choices will have a direct impact on other people’s lives, no matter how hard you’ve convinced yourself otherwise.

It’s easy to miss the bigger picture when you’re in a modern, western country where virulent diseases that causes untold numbers of deaths have been a non issue for decades. If you look at other countries, ones where the vaccination rates aren’t as high as they are here, you can see a direct correlation between when the campaigns falter and the resurgence of the diseases they were trying to prevent. Additionally there’s also strong correlation with the increased numbers of vaccinations decreasing the rates of diseases like measles showing pretty clearly that they work exactly as intended. Suffice to say if the anti-vaxers had their way we’d be seeing diseases which are essentially non-existent making a resurgence, something which I don’t think many of them have considered as a consequence of their actions.

I know I’m mostly preaching to the choir here but hopefully these kinds of posts give you enough information to fight the torrent of bullshit that flows from the anti-vax crowd. It’s a hard war to fight, especially when the effort gap between saying something ludicrous and disproving it is so large, but the longer we keep at it the more chance we have of eradicating this particular brand of ignorance entirely. Indeed we can think of knowledge as a vaccination against stupidity, a disease that would lead you to trust strangers on the Internet over the scientists and doctors who worked so hard to save you from real diseases.

 

Conscientious Objection to Vaccinations? What The Fuck Australia.

For a while I was lulled into thinking that Australia was becoming some kind of rational place thanks to all the progress we had been making. After years of campaigning, blogging and whining about it to friends we’re less than 6 months away from having a R18+ rating for games in Australia. The government also seemed to become more aware of people acting irrationally and decided to do something about it, removing the family tax benefit for parents who refused to vaccinate their kids. Sure we still had a long way to go but the beginnings of a rational, logical government seemed to be sprouting up everywhere and for a time I was happy.

All it took was one news article to bring that all down in one sweeping blow. I’ll let the exerpt speak for itself:

While parents have been warned they will lose their payment and the childcare benefit if they do not fully immunise their children, they are also being told exemptions will be given to objectors.

All they have to do to still receive the money is fill out a form supplied by the Federal Government.

The Federal Government’s Department of Human Services website outlines the immunisation requirements.

It reads: “To meet the immunisation requirements, children will need to be fully immunised, be on a recognised immunisation catch-up schedule, or have an approved exemption.”

You can imagine how furious this made me.

So last November when I blogged about the Australian government taking away tax benefits for people who refused to vaccinate their children I thought it was a no holds barred approach: if you refuse to vaccinate you lose the money, simple. Turns out that’s not entirely the case as whilst if you do refuse to vaccinate you will lose the benefit that will only happen should you fail to fill out he conscientious objection form available from DHS. If you fill out that form then you’re right as rain and you’ll get the full tax benefits as if you had fully immunized your child even though you haven’t.

To me that seems more like a punishment for the ignorant and unaware, not people who don’t want to vaccinate their children.

Indeed it makes the whole policy null and void as the anti-vaxers are a vocal movement, with posts like these reaching a wide audience. Realistically if the government was serious about this legislation there wouldn’t be any exemptions at all and the anti-vaxers would have to endure both the physical and fiscal consequences of their actions. Instead now all we have is anti-vaxers wasting the time of doctors in order to get them to sign a form so they can then reclaim the money that they shouldn’t be entitled to and that makes me incredibly furious.

You see whilst the Australian Vaccination Network might like to think that there’s two sides to the vaccination debate they are in fact clearly wrong. The old pretence of vaccinations causing autism is patently false and anyone pointing to data saying that there have been more cases of autism since their introduction forgets the fact that diagnosing austim spectrum disorders has been an area of scientific investigation ever since it was introduced. Any increase in the condition’s prevalence is far more likely due to the umbrella of ASDs spreading than vaccinations or some other mysterious environmental factor.

Worse still are the proponents who think vaccinations aren’t the best way to develop a healthy immune system and that it can be had through a healthy diet or some other rubbish. Vaccines work because they give your immune system the tools with which to destroy the disease before it can take hold and the only other way to get a similar level of immunity is to catch the disease. For some vaccinated diseases this might not be too bad (chicken pox has only recently had a vaccine developed as the symptoms are very mild for children, however they can be deadly for adults) but for things like small pox, polio and other nasty diseases vaccination is the only safe way to get immunity. There are other diseases for which no immunity develops after you’ve caught it (pertussis or whooping cough) which means you could very well catch the same disease repeated times without strengthening the immune system at all.

I will wholeheartedly defend the parent’s rights to do as they will with their own bodies but the second they start to make decisions about their child’s (and indirectly all other children that interact with them) health then I believe the government has every right to step in and intervene. The fact of the matter is that refusal to vaccinate your child isn’t a decision that affects your child it puts every other child near them at risk. Herd immunity only goes so far and we’ve seen far too many tragic incidents where parents of children who can’t be vaccinated yet (because they’re too young) die because another child would could have been vaccinated wasn’t and then transmitted a fatal infection to them. Not vaccinating your children is a completely selfish decision and I believe the government has every right to punish you for it.

How you can claim to have a concious and object to protecting your child with scientifically proven and tested methods is beyond my comprehension. There is no scientific argument that the anti-vaxer movement can bring forward that supports their view, it’s all based on the emotion of those who believe vaccines are responsible for something that they’re not. I can understand their frustration, I used to work with special needs children and it can be truly heart wrenching at times, and the need to look for a source of blame is incredibly strong. However I can’t condone them blaming vaccines for anything but making their child cry when they get the injection as there’s no evidence to support it and abstaining from them puts their child and all other children around them in serious danger.

Seriously Australia, don’t support this kind of bullshit. It’s our kids who will pay the price.

Overcoming Subconscious Beliefs.

I like to portray myself as a wholly rational kind of person, one who takes in all the available evidence before making a conclusion. It’s actually rather inhibiting when I’m writing something as there are a lot of times when I have an opinion on something (and feel it would make a good post) but the amount of research required to either confirm or deny my point of view is prohibitive. Despite this though I’m still riddled with many internal biases towards certain subjects and no matter how good the evidence is on one side I’ll still get some horrible cognitive dissonance when I think about them.

The best example I can think of was my previous (mostly unknown and unspoken) stance on global warming. Up until around 2 years ago I had this deep rooted feeling that whilst climate change was happening the notion that we had anything to do with it, or even that it was that big of a threat to us, was just some form of hyperbole from the environmentalists. This wasn’t helped by my favourite pair of magicians, Penn and Teller, running with the idea that man-made global warming was bullshit on their show. Indeed even up until a year ago whilst my conscious self would take the evidence based approach I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that I was wrong on some level.

One notion I’m still wrestling with is the idea of free will in a deterministic universe. I took the idea of free will as a given and much of society is based around the idea that we’re directly responsible for the actions we undertake. On the other side of the coin however we have a universe which, as far as we can tell, is almost wholly deterministic. This means that everything, from the motion of the stars to my motivation for writing this very blog post, arise from a strict set of rules that don’t change. The notion of the universe being deterministic then is devastating to the idea of free will, unless you rationalize it out in some way.

For now that’s the part I’m still struggling with, figuring out whether I rationalize it away or if I take the hard determinism route and just straight up say free will doesn’t exist. Eventually I’ll find something that convinces me or some key argument will wear away at me until I come to a conclusion. Strangely though it probably won’t be a conscious “yes this is my opinion now” moments, more one day I’ll no longer feel the cognitive dissonance that I usually feel when the subject comes up and then I’ll know that I’ve changed one of my subconscious beliefs. I don’t expect that to happen any time soon though as I’ve been wrestling with this idea for the better part of a year now.

I find this interesting as even though I try my darnedest to be a fully rational actor I still can’t escape the rule of beliefs that I hold for no reason in particular. The key then is understanding when you have a belief like that and then working to either fully accept it (if you agree with it that is) or working to convince yourself otherwise. For me the effort of maintaining the right belief consciously eventually won out but it’s definitely one of the more mentally exhausting processes I’ve undertaken. Once I was aware of this process though it became a lot easier, well at least for all the smaller issues anyway…

The Bullshit Behind “If It Failed, You Did It Wrong”.

I often find myself deconstructing stories and ideas to find out what the key factors were in their success or failure. It’s the engineer training in me that’s trying to find out what are key elements for something to swing one way or another hoping to apply (or remove) those traits from my own endeavors, hoping to emulate the success stories. It follows then that I spend a fair amount of my time looking introspectively, analyzing my own ideas and experiences to see how future plans line up against my set of criteria for possible future success. One of the patterns I’ve noticed from doing all this analysis is the prevalence of the idea that should you fail at something that automatically you’re the one who did something wrong and it wasn’t the idea that was at fault.

Take for instance Tim Ferriss author of two self help books, The 4 Hour Work Week and The 4 Hour Body, who has undoubtedly helped thousands of people achieve goals that they had never dreamed of attempting in the past. I’ve read both his books and whilst I believe there’s a lot of good stuff in there it’s also 50% horse shit, but that rule applies to any motivator or self help proprietor. One of the underpinnings of his latest book was the slow carb diet, aimed at shedding layers of fat and oodles of weight in extremely short periods of time. I haven’t tried it since it doesn’t line up with my current goals (I.E. gaining weight) but those who have and didn’t experience the results got hit back with this reply from the man himself:

The following will address 99%+ of confusion:

– If you have to ask, don’t eat it.
– If you haven’t had blood tests done, I don’t want to hear that the diet doesn’t work.
– If you aren’t measuring inches or haven’t measured bodyfat % with an accurate tool (BodPod, etc. and NOT bodyfat scales), I don’t want to hear that the diet doesn’t work.
– If you’re a woman and taking measurements within 10 days prior to menstruation (which I advise against in the book), I don’t want to hear about the lack of progress.

Whilst being a classic example of Wally Blocking¹ this also places all blame for failure on the end user, negating any possibility that the diet doesn’t work for everyone (and it really can’t, but that’s another story). However admitting that this diet isn’t for everyone would undermine it’s credibility and those who experienced failure would, sometimes rightly, put the failure on the process rather than themselves.

Motivators aren’t the only ones who outright deny that there’s a failure with their process, it’s also rife with the proponents of Agile development techniques. Whilst I might be coming around to some of the ideas since I found I was already using them its not uncommon to hear about those who’ve experimented Agile and haven’t had a great deal of success with it. The response from Agile experts is usually that you’re doing it wrong and that you’re inability to adhere strictly to the Agile process is what lead to your failure, not that agile might not be appropriate for your particular product or team. Of course this is a logical fallacy, akin to the no true Scotsman idea, and doing the research would show you that Agile isn’t appropriate everywhere with other methods producing great results

In the end it all boils down to the fact that not every process is perfect and can never be appropriate for any situation. Blaming the end user may maintain the illusion that your process is beyond reproach but realistically you will eventually have to face hard evidence that you can’t design a one size fits all solution, especially for anything that will be used by a large number of people. For those of you who have tried a “guaranteed to succeed” process like those I’ve described above and failed it would be worth your effort to see if the fault truly lies within you or the process simply wasn’t appropriate for what you were using it for, even if it was marketed to you as such.

¹I tried to find an online reference to this saying but can’t seem to find it anywhere. In essence Wally Blocking someone stems from the Wally character in Dilbert who actively avoids doing any work possible. One of his tactics is when asked to do some piece of work place an unnecessarily large prerequisite on getting the work done, usually on the person requesting it. This will usually result in either the person doing the work themselves or getting someone else to do it, thus Wally had blocked any potential work from coming his way.

Zero Value Blogging: News From Non-News.

I’ve found that no matter how hard you try to keep the quality of your blog high you’ll eventually end up posting something that’s utter crap, even more so if you go for the silly idea of blogging on a regular basis. This particular blog is a good example of that as whilst I’m overall satisfied with the level of quality stuff I’ve written over the years there’s more than a few examples of me trying to shit when I didn’t have to go and ending up posting something that does little more than keep this blog alive in Google’s search algorithms. Still this won’t stop me from pointing out when others crap out posts that add nothing of any value to anyone, especially when the articles are pulled directly out of their asses.

One of my favorite blogs who I regularly use as a punching bag here is Techcrunch. Don’t get me wrong there’s a reason that I keep coming back to them everyday for my fix on up and coming companies (I’m mostly watching for competitors) but they do have a habit of making news out of innocuous crap in order to generate some page views. From creating recursive posts with 0 content to wild speculation on new products without little to no research they’re no strangers to peddling out shit to their readers and seemingly act surprised when a vocal bunch of them begin trolling them. With the volume they put out though its inevitable that a percentage of their content will end up like this, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that it adds nothing to the value of their site or the wider Internet.

And rightly meta-blogging like this is similarly of low to zero value as all I’m really doing here is belly-aching about a much more successful tech blog. I try to avoid posts like these wanting instead to give my readers the information behind the news so that my posts can stand by themselves (and as a result age well) but a combination of lack of inspiration, seeing one of these 0 value posts and having this thing in draft for a couple weeks finally pushed me over the edge. You’d think the irony would be getting to me, but I’m just happy that I can satisfy my OCD for the day by getting this thing written.

I think the biggest issue I have with this kind of blogging is that when big sites do it the smaller ones follow suit turning the non-news story into a story in itself. I pride myself on not laying on the bullshit too strongly here and if I can’t verify something I just don’t write about it (or flag it as opinion). Unfortunately in the rapidly paced world of online news there’s really little time to allocate to fact checking a story when it hits, leaving you with the undesirable option of either reporting it verbatim or missing the boat by attempting to verify the story. My rule of posting once a day negates this problem (and also helps keep me sane) but also negates any benefits of posting on hot news as I’m often behind the times. I’m not a news reporting site however, so the impact on me is quite minimal.

When you’re making a living from the number of page views that come to your site it is understandable that you’ll do anything to keep that number high. Hell even just having a higher page view count can make you feel pretty good (like it did back when I first started this site) but in the end being proud of your work feels a lot better. I might change my tune when I finally think about monetizing this site, which could be coming soon since I moved this to a proper server, but that won’t change the fact that I’ll hate on those who aren’t providing any real value and I encourage anyone to point back to this post should I start playing fast and loose with the quality content just to keep the page views up.

Lies, Damn Lies and Small Sample Statistics.

It’s easy to get lost in the idea that the whole world is close to what you have experienced. Realistically the only thing we have to go by is what we see and hear day by day and philosophically we can’t even really prove that anything else exists outside our own sphere of influence. Before I derail this post into a lot of hand waving about cognition and awareness I wanted to explore the world of misrepresentation of data through the use of either cherry picking results or through sample bias using small or particular populations.

Cast your mind back to 2004, for the Australians among us they would remember that this was the time of the federal election, and the last time that John Howard would win his bid for Prime Minister. Back then I was still a teenager but it was the first time I was eligible to vote in the election. Speaking to all my friends and family I was convinced that this year we would oust Howard and usher in new blood to revive what I saw to be a stagnant government. You can then imagine my shock as not only did the Liberal party win, but did so by taking 5 seats away from Labor. The politically inclined among you would realise that typically Canberra is a Labor electorate and if took nothing but opinions from the people within Canberra you would come to the same conclusion. This was classic sample bias and it led me to become more involved in politics, as I now knew that I couldn’t trust just the people I talk to in order to extrapolate to Australia as a whole.

Just today a good friend of mine sent me this article that also used flawed logic and small sample size to make wild accusations about the general health of the gamer population:

ADULTS who play video games may suffer higher levels of depression and weigh more than non-gamers, according to a study released today.

The study, conducted by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Emory University and Andrews University, found “measurable correlations between video-game playing and health risks”.

The study – “Health-Risk Correlates of Video-Game Playing Among Adults” – is being published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The researchers surveyed 562 adults ranging in age from 19 to 90 in the Seattle-Tacoma area of Washington state. A total of 45.1 per cent of those surveyed reported playing video games.

The sample is, to say the least, incredibly biased. Let me just pick out a couple of the problems with the data set they have used:

  • The sample size is incredibly small to be able to draw any substantial conclusions.
  • The use of weasel words like “may” and “measurable correlations” are not something you find in well researched scientific reports.
  • The sample is taken from one area, which according to this lovely animated graphic from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that they have an obesity rate of greater than 30%.
  • Repeat after me, correlation does not equal causation.

If we were say to apply this to my group of friends (of which the sample size is approximately equal in gamer/non-gamer distribution with a fifth of the size) you would probably find that gaming has little to no correlation to obesity and depression. In fact you’d see that gamers on average tend to be healthier, but the problem is that whilst we all identify as game players we each have our own reasons for keeping fit and healthy. The numbers used and conclusions drawn are misleading at best and anyone who’s spent even a small amount of time working with statistics will tell you that using a sample size of 0.0094% (564 people divided by 6 billion in the world) of the population can not be relied on.

Statistics are the one thing that everyone is familiar with but no one seems to understand completely. All too often I’m seeing reports being made or news articles being published that use fatally flawed mathematics and unfortunately this often misleads people to believe things they otherwise would not. For the mathematically inclined among us it then becomes a battle of education to give people the tools so they can break down the arguments analytically, however there’s only so far you can go before people stop listening.

As usual there’s a slight anti mass media bias to this post but what I truly desire is for people to question information that is given to them. We humans are wired to turn off our sceptical parts of our brain when an expert tells us something and this is why we need to build up our bullshit detectors so we don’t get fooled by the people who wield the power of statistics. It just so happens that the biggest abusers of this power are the media.

And yes the irony of using statistics to disprove statistics isn’t lost on me. I’ll still take the moral high ground on this issue however 🙂