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Articles Associated with Keyword: epistemology

Podcast > Wednesday, 7 November 2012 01:21:02 EST

Dumbass Podcast 14: Gramatically Yours

Keywords: argumentation, epistemology, grammar

How to disagree agreeably, and what's the truth about grammar rules?

End Of Segment 1 (On Disagreeing Agreeably): 16:43
End Of Segment 2 (Grammar Rules): 49:23

Links/Topics Mentioned In The Show
The Why You're Wrong Podcast
Episode 8 of the Invisible Sky Monster Podcast
The Skeprechauns Podcast
The Warning Radio Podcast
Code Monkey by Jonathan Coulton
Bad Grammar Examples
Aren't I vs Am I Not
The Dumbass Media Empire Website
A Skeptics Guide to Conspiracy Podcast
The Canadian Dialogues Podcast
C-Webb's Sunday School Podcast
The Worlds of Impodibilities Podcast
Buy Chess Wars the Audiobook for $4.99
Chris White's Ancient Aliens Debunked Documentary/Website
Jason Colavito's Blog
The Young Australian Skeptics/Pseudoscientists Podcast
The Skeptical Blog Anthology
The Straight A Conspiracy: A Student's Secret Guide to Ending the Stress of High School and Totally Ruling the World
Theme Music By Jonathan Coulton
Other Music By

Enjoy the show!  Here's the transcript:
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Criticism > Friday, 3 August 2012 03:19:47 EST

Basket 'O Cash: A Case Study in Deceptive Advertising

Keywords: epistemology, statistics, video, product

Don't get me wrong, I know that it's the job of advertisers to use the truth selectively and to tell a narrative that may not be completely true to reality.  But every so often I notice a commercial that I have to admit is a masterwork in using completely meaningless babble to trick people into believing they're getting actual information.

Case in point, Downy's recent "Basket of Cash" commercial.  Take a look, and notice how not one single point made in the commercial carries any actual real world meaning:

Now let's take a deeper look at what the ad was showing us:

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Musings > Tuesday, 9 August 2011 03:11:46 EST

Thoughts On Belief

Keywords: religion, epistemology

There's a recurring debate in the skeptical community about what the skeptical position should be about religion.  I've talked about this issue before, but as I've had more discussions on the topic and thought more about it, I've found that I have more to say on the topic.

The basic question, it seems to me, is one of how does skepticism relate to belief.  Should all our beliefs be based in evidence?  What should we think about beliefs that have no evidence to back them up?  Certainly if people claim evidence that doesn't hold up to scrutiny science and skepticism are prime tools for pointing that out.  But what about when there's no claim to evidence, when people just believe something while acknowledging that they have no evidence and they make no claims.

For example, what about deists?  What should we think about them?  What does skepticism say about these kinds of beliefs?  Many people have argued that people simply shouldn't hold beliefs that are not based in evidence.  But is that a skeptical position?
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Analysis > Monday, 7 February 2011 18:29:28 EST

The Limits Of Expertise

Keywords: epistemology, historical, video, aliens, ancient alien theory

I've mused before about how to think about expertise.  The experts are more likely to have their facts straight, so when an expert gives you a fact you should certainly take it seriously.  But even when people have all their facts straight, they can still be wrong in their conclusions.  That's why I don't have a problem with people questioning the experts.  Even if you're wrong, I believe there's a benefit to bringing up these kind of challenges.  It's just when people aren't willing to listen to the rebuttals and understand what's being said that things get out of hand.

I just came across a perfect example about how expert, in-depth knowledge of a subject, is no guarantee that your conclusions are in any way valid.  I've transcribed a quote from Michael Heisser, who actually gave a very good speech debunking the claims of ancient alien theorist Zechariah Sitchin.  Sitchin makes claims to be an expert on ancient languages and to have made some incredible translations.  Heisser, who actually is an expert in ancient languages, shows quite clearly that Sitchin is just full of it.  But that doesn't mean that Heisser doesn't have poorly thought out ideas about the subject himself, as shown by the following quote from the question and answer segment:

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Online Viewing Recommendations > Friday, 21 January 2011 19:16:37 EST

Messing With People's Minds

Keywords: video, epistemology, book, Canada

If you paid attention to my last podcast, you'll remember that I promoted the book The Invisible Gorilla by by Christopher Chabris, and Daniel Simon.   If you haven't looked into the book as I suggested, and you've never heard of the experiment that it references, take a look at this video before continuing:

It's a fascinating book, and to get it in audiobook format simply follow this link, and if you don't have an account you can get one here, along with a 14 day free trial and a free audiobook.  The book is fascinating, and I highly recommend reading it.  What I want to talk about today involves another subject mentioned in the book, and I have a couple of videos that illustrate the concept.  If you've already seen these first videos, you might still want to scroll past them to the other funny videos I'm posting because I think you'll enjoy them.  The first one is from Richard Wiseman's Quirkology channel:

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Musings > Tuesday, 30 November 2010 17:02:06 EST

What Is Evidence?

Keywords: epistemology, uncertainty

One thing that I notice all over the place is a lack of understanding about what makes for good evidence.  Often, with conspiracy theories and other forms of nonsense, people tend to present a number of facts, which may be perfectly true statements, that they call evidence but which aren't.

Much of the time, instead of evidence, these are just facts that happen to be in accordance with their theory.  These are facts which you would expect to be true if the theory was true.  The problem is that if the theory is false, that doesn't really much change the likelihood of those facts to be true.

Evidence should point in a very obvious direction.  For good evidence, you would expect it to be much less likely for that evidence to exist if the theory was false than if it were true.  If there are numerous different explanations for a fact, and your theory isn't even the most likely explanation in the first place, then what you have isn't evidence.  it's just a fact that's in accordance with your theory.

For example:
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Musings > Friday, 26 November 2010 16:45:13 EST

Did Einstein Really Say That?

Keywords: epistemology, uncertainty

When I designed this website, I included a quote underneath the title of the page which I've attributed to the great Albert Einstein: "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

It's a great quote, right?  The only problem is that it seems too good.  It seems like exactly the kind of quote that somebody would attribute to a well known figure like Albert Einstein just to give it some extra weight.  Perhaps it won't surprise you to know that I had that exact same thought while putting this website together.

A while back, Doug Delong of the Planet Japan podcast plugged my blog, but mentioned that he had trouble believing that the quote was accurate.  This is what I wrote to him in response:
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Musings > Sunday, 31 October 2010 23:54:20 EST

Taking Stories In Their Own Context

Keywords: epistemology, uncertainty

Many pseudo scientists love to look up historical accounts and the like and interpret them by reading between the lines.  This is especially popular with believers in ancient aliens, who enjoy going through the Bible and writing in interpretations to make the stories say things that aren't evident in the original text.

I think it needs to be illustrated why you've got to take these stories as they're told, and not write in what you imagine the author might have meant.  You've got to take the stories in their own context, and not write in details that are not present in the stories themselves.

For example, imagine that you're a police chief, and a crime has occurred. The only eyewitness description of the perpetrator that you have is from a 6 year old boy. You've got the description in front of you, it reads:

He was a wizard because he carried a magic wand. And he had the face of a panther and he breathed fire! And he had a lion with him!

One of your officers approaches you and says, "Listen, chief. I think I've got an idea of what that kid was talking about. He said the perp had a magic wand and that there was a lion... well, the kid probably got a little confused. I'll bet the man's blind and he carries a stick for sensing objects on the ground. And he probably has a guide dog, maybe an especially big one that would seem to a little kid to be kind of like a lion."

"Interesting...", you say, "Please continue."

"Okay, " he continues, "The kid said that the man breathed fire... that probably means that he was smoking a cigarette. And he had the face of a panther... well, that probably means that this was an African American. I think what we need to do is advise our officers to be on the lookout for a blind, African American chain smoker whose guide dog is especially large."

A second officer overhears the conversation and decides to break in.

"Chief, " he says, "I think that's the wrong path to take. It's entirely possible that this is what the kid saw and that he elaborated the description in this way. But there's no way to know that. If you take this description to be what the child meant, you're kind of putting words in the kid's mouth that he never actually said. We need to take this description in it's own context as the story of a 6 year old boy. There are plenty of other possibilities in that context. The kid could have been playing make believe, or he could have just woken up from a nap and had a dream. Or he could have just made something up in order to please a questioning adult. There's no way we can use this description in order to determine a description of the perpetrator."

Which officer's explanation would you choose to act on?

As silly as it seems for an officer to make such a deduction, these are exactly the kinds of deductions that are made by ancient alien theorists, and conspiracy theorists of all stripes for that matter.  They say "Well, statement X could have actually meant Y" - but statement X only said X, not Y.  If you interpret X to mean Y you're going beyond the evidence available and writing in details that are not warranted.

It seems like this kind of point should be straightforward, but so many people fail to understand it and will make these kinds of tangentially related substitutions with complete disregard.  And they feel like by making these kinds of substitutions they've built up a solid case, when in reality they've based their arguments on completely unsupportable assumptions.

When you're looking into strange stories and claims, remember to never go beyond the evidence available.
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Musings > Sunday, 10 October 2010 18:16:48 EST

To Reveal Or Not To Reveal?

Keywords: epistemology, video, paranormal

I just watched the following video from TAM 7 of a panel on the intersection of magic and skepticism:

One of the questions discussed was that of whether magic tricks should be revealed in order to show people how they can be fooled.  They didn't really resolve the issue, and the panel wasn't set up to really have a good argument about that.  But some interesting points were raised and it's been going through my mind.

James Randi is a known proponent of showing people the trick but not telling them how it's done.  He believes that this is the best way to convince people that they can be fooled.  He believes that telling people the trick will leave them overconfident in cases where con men use a different method.

This is a valid concern.  In the panel they used the term "half smart" in order to describe the phenomenon.    If we're trying to spread critical thinking, we don't want to leave people only half smart, overconfident and unprepared for different methods than the one they've been told about.  But I think there's more to this issue that needs to be considered.
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Musings > Wednesday, 22 September 2010 18:47:48 EST

Why I Promote Intellectual Uncertainty

Keywords: epistemology, uncertainty

I often get emails and comments from people telling me that they don't think my alias suits me.  They feel like I'm undervaluing my contributions by calling myself a dumbass, and they tell me that the quality of my blog deserves a more appropriate name.

I appreciate the confidence in my abilities, and I am very happy to receive such high praise.  I always respond by telling them why I chose this name for my blog.  I've mentioned it before, but I think it bears repeating for anybody who hasn't read all my articles.

There's a quote from a book that I've just read that sums up my feelings about this perfectly.  This is from "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson:

The unbending need to be right inevitably produces self-righteousness.  When confidence and convictions are unleavened by humility, by an acceptance of fallibility; people can easily cross the line from healthy self assurance to arrogance.

I call myself a dumbass because I don't want to fall into the trap of thinking that I know more than I do.  I don't want to fall into the trap of believing that I'm immune from the cognitive biases that affect everybody else.  People who think that they're immune are the easiest ones to fool.

Of course, I do feel the desire to pat myself on the back for what I see as my clearheaded analysis of dubious claims.  I have pride in my work.  What I wanted to balance that out was a constant reminder that I'm fallible.  That I'm just a dumbass like everybody else and I shouldn't take myself too seriously.

I may be the one on the soapbox here, but I don't expect anybody to take anything I have to say for granted.  I could very well be wrong, and it's even likely that I am wrong about something I've written here.  Even with all it's editors and fact checkers, the Encyclopedia Britannica still makes mistakes in every edition.

So in addition to reminding myself that I could be wrong, I want to encourage other people to feel comfortable challenging  me when they think I'm wrong.  I'm just some dumbass with a blog, please don't just take my word for anything!

If I got my facts wrong, I definitely want to know about it.
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