Monday, 31 March 2008

Rod's blog entry about logic

[Kat's note: I'm looking forward to talking about this on air in a few weeks!]

Coming out of my kitchen cupboard at the moment is a terrible smell. A miasma of rotting potatoes threatening to inflict upon me some awful disease. At least, that’s what I might think if I believed the old theory that foul smells could spread disease.

Now we could all chuckle, thinking patronising thoughts about how quaint it is for anybody to believe such a thing. We know that infection is caused by microbes, and the only way a smell is going to make you sick is if it were a disusting pile of…..(insert description here). We might feel a bit nauseous but we’re not going to conract Yellow Fever from a smell.

Still, you can see the logic. I went to a swamp. Thick gloopy anerobic mud, and it smelled disgusting. Next week I fell sick. Ergo the smell infected me with Yellow Fever. Here we have an example of false logic, which is what I want to talk about in this blog story.

You know what’s missing in the story above. The smell is associated with the swamp, but I forgot to mention the mosquitos.

Scratch, scratch, scratch, yourself
Life is really rotten
Especially with mosquitos there
To bite you on the bottom

Aristotle might’ve known about Yellow Fever, but he’s very unlikely to have known of its connection to mosquitos. He probably wasn’t much chop on disease, but he sure knew about logic, and when I invent my time machine and go to visit him, and to this story he will undoubtedly say non causa pro causa. Actually he wouldn’t because he was Greek, so please just use your imagination.

This is a case of The Fallacy of False Cause. A variant is reductio ad absurdum, which literally means “reduce to absurdity”. As a distinctly non-muscly kind of bloke I’m happy to give you an example of this. A body builder might say if some muscle is good, then lots of muscle must be really good. In fact, if I bound myself up in so many layers of muscle that I can hardly move, I must be the pinacle of human health. Yet you may have heard of body builders so focused on muscle development aided by steriods and diet restrictions, they die of heart failure.

My other favourite story is of a weapon called the “Mini Gun”. You’ve probably seen that (muscle man) Arnie swinging one of these around laying waste to aliens and bad people. It’s a water cooled gatling gun flinging out 6,000 bullets a second. Great for big time movie street cred, great for councelling people not like us, but not so good for winning the hearts and minds of people on the receiving end. If a few bullets are good for winning a war, then lots of bullets must be extremely good, but apparently not good enough to win the Vietnam war.

Meanwhile, Aristotle has been scratching out on parchment a catalogue of the forms of false logic. Some wag titled this his Sophistic Refutations, probably in the hope of making it sound impressive for publication. Here’s my interpretation.

The General to the Particular
Violent spectators have been a problem at English soccer matches, therefore English soccer fans are hooligans.

The Particular to the General
People find football entertaining, therefore I find football entertaining.

Irrelevent Conclusion
There are a few variants of this, but they all revolve around unrelated causes: Ad Hominem, against the man; Ad Misericordiam, an appeal to pity; Ad Populem, most people say..; Ad Vericumdiam, an appeal to authority – Rod says…; Ad Ignorantiam, in the absence of evidence; Ad Baculum, agree with me or else.

Circular Argument
Paula is bad because she is racist. She’s racist because she’s bad.

Many Questions
Have you stopped beating your wife? Is actually two questions posing as one.

False Cause
The miasma theory of disease.

Non Sequitur
Sue is wrong, therefore Bill must be right. Actually they’re both wrong. Rod is probably right.

By this time you might be wondering why I would be prattling on about philosophy on a science blog. Strictly speaking the Sophistic Refutations are about formal logic, which leaves no room for intuition or judgement based balance of probability. Circumstantial evidence is not permitted.

Science, on the other hand is based on evidence, and pure logic is not enough. I cannot simply don a robotic Dr Spock voice and make grand pronouncements on cold logic alone. Interestingly this is what our Greek friend did when he said things such as that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

In other words, in science you need logic and evidence, and this Sophistic stuff gives you a clue to the traps to avoid when drawing conclusions. Science had to invent methods to overcome the little logic traps nature sets for us. Deep breath, here’s one – smoking.

I remember great aunt Betty’s withered hand holding a Capstan cigarette, but did that kill her? Or perhaps it was he old age. Or because she had polio. To say with a confidence that A causes B, you need to control all the vairiables. But Betty objected to being stuffed into a test tube, so we have to use statistics instead and say that on the balance of probabilities, we think smoking is a cause of early death.

Ultimately this story comes down to a question of what is inherently knowable. I don’t know that logic will solve this problem, but I do know that without it we are left with a smelly miasma of diseased science.

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Monday, 17 March 2008

The hobbit saga continues - more fossils found

Last show I was on (March 9th) Mike and I were discussing evolution, in particular the contention about the so called 'hobbits' or miniture people found on an island. Doctors are saying that the smallness might be due to feeding deficiencies, as opposed to the people being smaller in general. The debates brings into play our notions of species, variation, and assumptions made in a field where we often run into 'Just so Stories' about what happened - or people that jump to conclusions without pausing to check...

Like the dodo and the tambalacoque sory or the hares and the lynx story - classics of textbooks on evolution, until someone actually decided to check the evolution pressures and discovered that the lynx didn't overeat the hares, causing a decline in hare population and therefore a crash in lynx popultaion (classic predator-prey - the grass the rabbits were eating evolved to be toxic to the hares. Or was it forest fires causing the damage?

And it's not sure the dodos ate the tough seeds, more likely bats and parrots did besides teh seeds are still germinating so the extinction of the dodo did not cause the extinction of the tree.

Mmmm ranting now :).

Anyway back to the point at hand - More fossils have been found! Thus the saga continues!!!!

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Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Not quite so obvious fuzzy - red-light cameras

We love doing the occasional 'fairly obvious fuzzy' on the show - studies which prove things that most people find obvious. We're not belittling the research, you just wonder why there needed to be three consecutive studies conducted which all proved absitance-only campaigns don't work for example.

It's easy to forget however that sometimes research into seemingly obvious things can reveal insights, for example Red-light cameras don't work at intersections. The fatalies from people suddenly braking are steeply increasing in Florida, whereas red-light deaths were decreasing anyway before the initiative...

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Tricky terminology

Here's a recent press release about different calls of 'katydids':

I found the pun on 'cool' and 'hot' fun though a little confusing at first.

Actually the whole article is full of games theory vagueness. For example they mention that the calls are flexible. But it is not the males themselves that are adjusting the call, diffrent males have different calls depending on when they were maturing, as far as I can tell. So the females could use it as an indicator (that one's got a fast call so it must be a summer maturer).

And of course the 'force' terminology at the end really refers to a search for the driver of the evolutionary change :P. Ah Jargon - this stuffs sneaky because it seems to mean something evocative. makes for great telling but lots of misconceptions...

Speaking of Katydids, here's some photos that Rod Taylor took in Thredbo lats week:

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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Beer and Ice Cream Diet

I got this on email

Lovely if this was true…
Beer and Ice Cream Diet
As we all know, it takes 1 calorie to heat 1 gram of water 1 degree centigrade. Translated into meaningful terms, this means that if you eat a very cold dessert (generally consisting of water in large part), the natural processes which raise the consumed dessert to body temperature during the digestive cycle literally sucks the calories out of the only available source, your body fat.
For example, a dessert served and eaten at near 0 degrees C (32.2 deg. F) will in a short time be raised to the normal body temperature of 37 degrees C (98.6 deg. F). For each gram of dessert eaten, that process takes approximately 37 calories as stated above. The average dessert portion is 6 oz, or 168 grams. Therefore, by operation of thermodynamic law, 6,216 calories (1 cal./gm/deg. x 37 deg. x 168 gms) are extracted from body fat as the dessert's temperature is normalized. Allowing for the 1,200 latent calories in the dessert, the net calorie loss is approximately 5,000 calories.
Obviously, the more cold dessert you eat,the better off you are and the faster you will lose weight, if that is your goal. This process works equally well when drinking very cold beer in frosted glasses. Each ounce of beer contains 16 latent calories, but extracts 1,036 calories (6,216 cal. per 6 oz. portion) in the temperature normalizing process. Thus the net calorie loss per ounce of beer is 1,020 calories. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to calculate that 12,240 calories (12 oz. x 1,020 cal./oz.) are extracted from the body in the process of drinking a can of beer.
Frozen desserts, e.g., ice cream, are even more beneficial, since it takes 83 cal./gm to melt them (i.e., raise them to 0 deg. C) and an additional 37 cal./gm to further raise them to body temperature. The results here are really remarkable, and it beats running hands down.
Unfortunately, for those who eat pizza as an excuse to drink beer, pizza (loaded with latent calories and served above body temperature) induces an opposite effect. But, thankfully, as the astute reader should have already reasoned, the obvious solution is to drink a lot of beer with pizza and follow up immediately with large bowls of ice cream.We could all be thin if we were to adhere religiously to a pizza, beer, and ice cream diet.
Happy eating!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Oragami in outer space?

Can you believe it?? Just like the ones I used to make at 20 cm and 30 grams - maybe i should have practiced how to make paper gliders more at school? Now the teachers have no excuse to give their students detentions for making paper gliders in science class!

From Times Online
February 7, 2008
"In a bold bid to take the traditional art of origami beyond the Final Frontier, Japan is planning to release a huge squadron of paper aeroplanes in outer space.
The trailblazing experiment, slated for launch later this year, could see around 100 paper planes raining down on the planet as they are captured by the Earth’s gravitational pull and sucked down towards the surface...

The experiment would, if successful, qualify for the longest ever flight by a paper plane: if one of the fleet should miraculously make it to earth, its journey will have been around 400km.
If any do make it back, the planes are statistically most likely to land in the sea - performing the same “splashdown” as the Apollo space missions. In the unlikely event that one floats down to solid ground, the lucky finder will be able to unfold the plane and discover the return address at the Japan Space Agency....

There is serious scientific intent behind the plan. Japan believes that if the paper planes are successful, they may open possibilities of using softer, lighter materials for constructing space craft.
Japan’s recent relationship with outer space has been controversial. In December, the Japanese Government was asked in parliament to produce a position paper on the existence of UFOs, prompting the chief cabinet secretary, Nobutaka Machimura, to declare his belief that aliens are “definitely” out there.
Later the same day, Yasuo Fukuda, the Prime Minister, separately told reporters, ”I have not yet confirmed” the existence of UFOs.

For the rest of the story:

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G doesn't always mark the spot

Fuzzy always loves a bit of gutter gossip!

Leigh Dayton, Science writer February 21, 2008

ITALIAN researchers claim they know why some lovers seek but cannot find the fabled and orgasmic G-spot: not all women have one.

As well as reducing anxiety in bedrooms around the world, the discovery promises to end a long-running scientific dispute about the existence of the G-spot, a structure alleged to trigger powerful vaginal orgasms.

According to a team led by physician and endocrinologist Emmanuele Jannini at the University of L'Aquila in central Italy, the G-spot is an area of tissue that lies between the vagina and the urethra.

When Professor Jannini's team conducted vaginal ultrasound scans of nine women who said they often had vaginal orgasms and 11 who said they didn't, they discovered that the sensitivity, or otherwise, of the spot depended on the thickness of the tissue.

Professor Jannini told New Scientist magazine: "(This means that) women without any evidence of a G-spot cannot have a vaginal orgasm."

The new findings, which were published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine overnight, build on earlier work at Professor Jannini's laboratory that showed that a biological compound called PDE5 was highly concentrated where the G-spot was alleged to be. The compound is key to maintaining male erections.

Professor Jannini's latest results also fit neatly with the 1998 discovery - by urologist and surgeon Helen O'Connell of the Royal Melbourne Hospital - that the clitoris is twice as large as anatomists believed. Dr O'Connell found that the erectile tissue of the clitoris surrounded the urethra on three sides, while the fourth was embedded in the front wall of the vagina.

Professor Jannini told New Scientist that women who do not have a G-spot shouldn't worry. "They can still have a normal orgasm through stimulation of the clitoris," he said.
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Study Finds Identical Twins Not Genetically Identical

18th Feb, 2008
Contrary to our previous beliefs, identical twins are not genetically identical.

This surprising finding is presented by American, Swedish, and Dutch scientists in a study being published in the prestigious journal American Journal of Human Genetics. The finding may be of great significance for research on hereditary diseases and for the development of new diagnostic methods. How can it be that one identical twin might develop Parkinson's disease, for instance, but not the other? Until now, the reasons have been sought in environmental factors. The current study complicates the picture.

"Even though the genome is virtually identical in identical twins, our results show that there in fact are tiny differences and that they are relatively common. This could have a major impact on our understanding of genetically determined disorders," says Jan Dumanksi, who co-directed the international study with his colleague Carl Bruder.

"By uncovering these small genetic differences in identical twins where one of them is sick, we have a way of tying specific genetic changes to the genesis of common diseases," says Carl Bruder. These researchers studied 19 pairs of identical twins and found that they indeed had the same DNA but nevertheless evinced differences in the number of copies of individual DNA segments. A segment might be missing, or more copies might exist in one twin. This could explain how one identical twin can be afflicted with a disorder while the other twin remains fully healthy, according to the scientists.

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Sunday, 2 March 2008

Fuzzy Logic 02 Mar 08

Yabbies hold grudges
Teenage Brains
Hair Forensics
HIV & Genes

Song Break - Anyone Else But You - The Moldy Peaches

Earth Hour
Rain bacteria

Song break - Sky is the Limit - Kid Confucius

Seed vault
Low fat diets

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