Musings from Southern New Mexico

Month: August 2015

A Quirk of Statistics and Probability

There is something very wrong with the way people have evolved. We are extremely adept at discerning patterns. These patterns, unfortunately, are of a size appropriate for hunter/gatherer bands. For great societies, these perceived patterns simply delude. In a lifespan of fifteen or twenty thousand days, a one in 10 thousand event is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. “If I conduct a single activity with a fairly low probability of a disaster occurring, it is OK.” What these people fail to realize is that they, along with their dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of counterparts are presenting the fates with an almost inevitable disaster.

Like Flies to a Cowpie

The business model of a sizable portion of online media is in the form of pay-per-click advertisements. The attractiveness of the clickbait approach to advertising is that a poor product with a compelling headline is quite efficient at drawing it consumers to the target.

Now silliness written as news has been around forever. Often as satire, sometimes as just silliness. Knowing it for what it was, my grandmother occasionally picked up a Weekly World News or a National Enquirer at the local Piggly Wiggly so we could all have a laugh.

What if someone were to take the journalistic integrity of Weekly World News, removed Batboy from the cover, and cloaked your presentation in the trappings of serious reporting? Enter Fox News. The pseudonews beast had broken its tether.

Loose journalistic standards of the right-wing media at the tail end of traditional media’s primacy presaged an absence of standards in the new media. This approach worked so well, that it essentially forced all newcomers into its model. In the new media, this became the clickbait model. In the clickbait model, those who exchange all effort formerly expended in accuracy for effort expended in presentation receive the greatest reward.

When the climate is so finely calibrated in favor of charlatans, is it really odd that charlatans appear and greatly benefit?

Confidently Uninformed

Confidence is often inversely proportional to expertise. If I were a good liar, I could pass for an expert on a number of esoteric topics. I could, that is, unless any audience member possessed enough knowledge to recognize my act as just that. But if I had already convinced key members of my audience of my expertise, the objector could be easily dismissed. That is why science and scientific endeavors can be so aggravating.

Scientific jargon and pseudoscientific gibberish are indistinguishable to an appropriately uninformed audience. Thus can the uninformed confidently make terrible decisions based on confidently delivered bad advice of the intellectually unencumbered.

Quashing a terrible recommendation from highly regarded idiot is nearly impossible.

Political Correctness

This term came out quite some time ago. It has come to be used almost exclusively in a manner perhaps not initially intended. Originally, it meant rephrasing an idea in such a way as to not cause offense. That is no longer its meaning in common usage. In the modern parlance, it is used almost solely as an expression of disgust that one can no longer “tell it like it is.” Of course, for the people who refer to “political correctness,” this also has a clear meaning:

“People who are not identical to me in one or more of the qualities of skin color, religion, ethnic background, gender, class, adherence to a political brand, etc. are subhuman filth and should be treated as such.”

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