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December 6, 2009

Getting Stupider and Stupider

If you flip a coin 99 times, and it comes up heads every time, what is the probability that the 100th flip will come up heads? My guess is not 99 to 1, but 50 - 50. Am I wrong? Why?

Take this. Last summer the Ad Council in Connecticut told us that "900 kids a year drown in swimming pools". Not an average of 900 kids a year, but 900 kids a year! This is ridiculous, because it means that a kid's chance of drowning in a swimming pool shrinks as the number of mortalities expand. And over time, the families whose indifference to water safety reduces their numbers, will be socially Darwinized out of bodies of water, therefore lowering the number even more. The questions and implications surrounding a fixed number of deaths are many.

The Ad Council has probably told us, somewhere, that there are 47,000 kids killed by guns every year, a similar number killed in auto accidents. Some charitable organization in New Haven makes regular claims, by radio, that "every 1 in 5 babies is born dangerously premature". This is a mixture of the more stupid factoid that "every fifth baby is born dangerously premature" and the proveable statistic that"1 out of 5 babies is born dangerously premature". They're all different. But the first claim is numerically ridiculous, and syntactically idiotic, but it rolled off an copywriter's keypad, and it points to the odious nature of what is known as a Public Service Announcement.

PSA's, don't impart knowledge, because they're not meant to. They substitute information disguised as knowledge. The information is not quite wrong and not quite right; it's un-wrong and un-false but not exactly right and not exactly true. It's propaganda. As such, PSA's fall at the nexus of dogma and convenient fact, where tax dollars for the public good can be leveraged out out of a deceived population. In that way they're evil, and are indistinct from cynical, dishonest evangelism.

If you think that a more enlightened, educated population would be immune to the charlatanry of the PSA, you'd probably be wrong. Take the evidence gathered by Dan Gilbert in his 1991 article "How Mental Systems Work" (Google it). Hammer through the cement of academic jargon, and you'll learn something about yourself (the rational skeptic), and that other guy, the credulous nitwit.

You'll learn that, for most people, belief precedes doubt and doubt requires more mental effort than belief. Belief is a default state; it's passive. It occurs with simple comprehension. Even a negation statement like "the sky is not yellow" requires that the mind affirm the yellowness of the sky, and then evaluate the validity of the proposition. Truth or verification require work and guts.

Consider the advancement from gullible childhood to skeptical adulthood. Skepticism arrives late in the human mind, and under pressure it's one of the the first things to go. Distraction, stress, psychological manipulation; all of them disable the evaluative process of the human mind, and allow the default position, belief, to prevail. It's easier.

There's a whole lot more in Gilbert's article - thoughts on visual perception, the evolutionary value of immediate belief over doubt, thoughts on the"mind" and more. Just imagine...people who rule us know this stuff inside and out. I believe that's depressing.

18 comments:

Fredd said...

If you can flip a coin and get 'heads' 99 times in a row, there are two possibilities:

1. Both sides of the coin are 'heads', and there is 100% chance of that next toss ending up 'heads.'

2. I'd like you to accompany me to Vegas...

NOTE: the stuff our rulers know about us in aggregate would make a vulture puke.

Velcro said...

Be of good cheer, Rhod. The psychological/philosophical ramblings of ivory tower academics bears little resemblance to the real world. What they haven't realized yet is that the rest of us recognize good/evil, right/wrong not with our brains but with our gut (heart).

You haven't lost your capacity for this.

JPT said...

Good stuff. I like the coin thingy.

Rhod said...

Velcro, I needed to hear that. The Ad Council is the left's bureau of dubious "facts".

Fredd and JPT. It's not impossible to get a 99 string of heads, but - just thinkin' - the probability of individual flips producing heads or tails doesn't change from 50/50 no matter how many times you flip and what the accumulated results are.

Connecticut offers "free" swimming lessons to reduce the number of drownings, which nationwide is supposed to be 900 fatalities.

You can make the case that if lessons save one kid, they're beneficial, IF swimming skills are the principle problem.

Does anyone know? I doubt it. Govt expands and revenue is spent anyway.

WomanHonorThyself said...

nice change of pace!!:)

Opus #6 said...

The people who rule us may know it. But know this. They hate us conservative bloggers. And that is heartening.

Anonymous said...

Quite the thought-provoking article you wrote!

Velcro said...

Glad to help, and keep up the good work. GNN has brightened my day many times!

aynzan said...

Interesting.An eye-opener..

CI-Roller Dude said...

In OIF 3, we had an "average" of 2 Americans killed each day.
So, when was there and heard that 2
Joes had been killed that day, I felt we were safe for that day because the "average" had already died for the day.

It was kind of a black way of looking at survival I guess.

Rhod said...

Actually, CI, the probability changed...I think...in your favor.

Barco Sin Vela II said...

I stopped believing the Ad Council's non-sense when they were showing kids how to make breakfast.

Rhod said...

BXVII, good decision.

Rhod said...

Opie, 32,000,000 liberals a year spent 3200 hours each in smug appreciation of their superiority over conservatives. All it takes to prove them wrong is one conservative.

The_Kid said...

50/50 of course.

And you can bet they know. But they didn't figure it out by themselves. The pollsters and people like Dick Morris do that for them.

But you gotta wonder how the Democrats can be the slave owners, stick their arms and legs out at every opportunity for equal rights for black people, and yet, 99.999% of blacks continue to vote Democrat election after election.

The Dems are either fantastic marketeers or the Republicans Suck.
I'd say both are true.

Republicans never talk to stupid or ignorant people (those being the poor, illiterate, and punks, not a racist concept at all)
They only talk to intelligent people, which is why they cancel out a larger and larger section of the voting public each election.

McCain didn't say one thing that any of them could understand that I heard.

r l n ! said...

"Truth or verification require work and guts." You said it! Right on target...bull's eye!

You know where i'm coming from...a Biblical view point. How many scholars with degrees up to the yin-yang have tried to disprove the authenticity and veracity of the Histories and prophecies concerning the Revelation of CHRIST.

Their foiled efforts took a mountain of work, but some did have the guts to accept that The BIBLE is indeed ALL Truth.

But there it is...some have the guts to admit their molehill intelligence compared to GOD's infinitely high and wide and deep (i.e., island mountains start at ocean floor level -- but you knew that) and totally unscaleable mountain of wisdom.

What does this have to do with your article? Well...just that one line struck a chord in my heart...and so i babbled away.

Caeseria said...

I nearly failed in Algebra, but understand the coin thing and the difference between "every one in five babies is premature" and "one out of five..." And know that my son wasn't a preemie just because the previous four born that day were full-term, and neither did his prematurity grant full-term babies to four other moms. THAT'S JUST NOT HOW IT WORKS. STUPID PEOPLE.

Rhod said...

Caeseria, of course. The agency which used that ridiculus locution didn't specify what they were raising money for. Prematurity has several suspected causes, but the cash might have rolled in for none of them.

rln, welcome point. The "smart" folks are all rationalists, don't ya know. Babble any time. Thanks.