Friday, February 24, 2012

Expediting the insanity

Sometimes, I look at the comments after an article, and mourn the time that it took for people to put their rage into language, only to have it ignored by everyone else.

So, I thought I'd save people some time by posting a stock rant, free for the taking, that anyone can edit ever so slightly using the crtl+H function after pasting the text into wordpad (or whatever), to replace group X with whatever name for their ideologic nemeses, and group Y for their own ldeologic camp. Talking past each other has never been so quick and easy!

This evil phenomenon is being perpetrated by the evil, stupid people in group X, who are fundamentally different than me, and all the other good, intelligent people in group Y. HEAR MY ROAR OF NEUROTIC RAGE AGAINST GROUP X!

Group Y has a better worldview because it is informed by better data
than the stuff used to inform Group X's worldview! It's all so
obvious, when you ignore Group X's data and pay attention to Group Y's data! We know that Group Y's data is authoritative over all other data, because Group Y's data says it's so. It's okay that Group Y's entire platform is based on circular reasoning; because Group Y's circular argument is made by the good, intelligent folks of Group Y, they provide us a good, intelligent, circular argument for why we should see things their way. This is totally different from the evil, stupid circular argument made by the subhuman slime in Group X.

I'm telling you, all we need is more of Group Y and less of Group X in
power! All the power to Group Y! This will result in you getting
virtually everything you want at almost no cost to yourself. Yes: there's no cost to my prescribed course of action, and if there are any costs, they will be placed squarely on the shoulders of Group X and their ilk. And let me tell you, they so richly deserve to pay these costs because they're evil, stupid, humanoid objects that pretend to have reasons for their beliefs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This blog's production has followed a Hubbert curve

If you look over to the 'Blog Archive' section of the right-hand sidebar, you may notice how blog activity has trailed off in recent years. The histogram of entries by year provides a good graphical depiction of the phenomenon: this blog's production has followed a Hubbert curve. Clearly, we reached a state of 'peak blog' four years ago.

At first, demand for blog-worthy posts was increasing exponentially, and I scrambled to extract thoughts from my head in order to keep pace. But eventually, the payoff from such mental excavation reached a point of diminishing returns. I was forced to find alternative methods of self-expression rather than writing crappy essays, and these substitutes that had previously been less economical became the dominant paradigm. Peak blog had come and gone, and yet the world turns on...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Haiku police

Please count syllables
The first and third lines have five,
the second, seven.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hot discussion: Artichoke Terrorism

Day in and day out, people go on with their lives, oblivious to the danger that their artichoke supply faces.

Foolishly, the artichoke industry has centralized such that 75% of the entire worlds' artichoke supply is grown within a 10 mile radius of the quaint hamlet of Castroville, CA.

Oh, the greed of big vegetable! Do they not even care that the entire dip industry could be irreversibly damaged by a single terrorist attack?

I'm not about giving solutions to this dilemma. I just want you to be afraid, and for you to join me in demanding that some sort of legislation be passed to protect us from a national tragedy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Get out the tin foil, it's National Paranoia Day

So let's just ignore the fact that I haven't posted in six months and skip to the good stuff. Wednesday is April 1st, the day when friends become enemies and enemies become meaner enemies. All of a sudden, everyone you know is lying to you, trying to convince you that your car was hit by a meteorite, or that there are free dilly bars in the office freezer, or that the tic-tacs that they are offering you *don't* taste like habanero peppers. And these, of course, are the relatively innocuous pranks that people can do. Remember, a good prank is something that gets entirely resolved by saying "April Fool's". Hiding around a corner and hitting a passerby with a 2x4 is not a good prank because it fails in to meet that criterion, and to a lesser extent so does telling somebody that their family was eaten by a whale. Of course, the second one also fails just about every other criteria too. So let's reiterate: don't attempt either of those.

But, for as much distress as it causes me, I still participate every year. I'm part of the problem, I know. But anyway, I thought I'd give a sneak peek (also known as completely explain) what I'm planning for this year, because A) nobody who reads this knows who I'm bepranking, and B) it might inspire others to bigger and better things.

So, some context: As part of my job, I'm to be heavily involved in the planning stages for a lot of health-related studies, and a lot of them use pigs as test subjects for emergency medicine studies that you could never do with people (like overdosing on beta-blockers and randomly assigning them to current or experimental new detoxifying treatments, for instance). But, as the statistician, I don't actually collect any of the data myself, so I have to stay in touch with the researchers, or as we in the biz call them, the investigators.

From: Christopher Anderson
Subject: Investigator needed for new study

Dr. ______,
I have an idea for an new study proposal, and I am looking for someone in the emergency department to take the lead as principal investigator. As you know, many retrospective studies of bicycle accidents have found an association of mortality and severe head injuries with not wearing a helmet. However, I think a prospective, controlled trial in needed to prove this relationship definitively.

By using pigs as test subjects, we can randomly assign them to either have a helmet or not, and then supply each with a traumatic impact. Considering the resources available to us at the Emergency department at Regions hospital, the quickest, most economical and reproducible way of supplying such an impact is to take test pigs up in the life link helicopter to an altitude of exactly forty feet, and push them out over the parking lot.

Outcomes of interest are (I) survival and (II) memory loss, as assessed by time-to-completion food pellet release puzzles. The null hypothesis to be tested is that there is no difference in outcomes between pigs that wore helmets and those that did not, against the alternative that there is a difference in survival and memory loss between groups. This sets up a straightforward statistical analysis via t-test.

Let me know what you think! Look forward to hearing back from you!

-Chris Anderson

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

tobacco fumage in a free society

One of the costs of living in a free society is that tobacco control is an issue that (at least I think) should be given some press. Two quotes by John Locke (the actual, historical, enlightenment era thinker, as opposed to the dude from “Lost”) illustrate the necessary tension in the matter:

"Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself."

"All mankind... being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions."

Any action taken by a government in order to make it more difficult for its people to smoke is always an infringement upon the first principle. However, any action *not* taken to reduce the well-documented hazards of second-hand smoke is an infringement upon the second (shouldn’t part of being free mean freedom from being poisoned?) Therefore, one of the few things that can be conclusively deduced is that there is no perfect solution to the smoking problem as long as there are people that want to smoke.

Clearly the first question we should ask about tobacco control in general is, “what is the ultimate point?” At the end of the day, we absolutely shouldn't care that people smoke or use tobacco products. We just don't want to see the ensuing morbidity and we don’t want to pay for anything. So something to remember is that we are, at the very core of our effort, only trying to curb the harmful effects of tobacco use, and if there was some way to sever the causal link between its use and the development of illness, then we no longer need be concerned about whether or not tobacco was being consumed.

After this question, different approaches to tobacco control will no longer stack up equally when viewed ethically. The three general types of control methods that I can think of are educating people about the consequences of smoking, legislation making it more difficult to smoke, and technologies to make smoking less harmful.

Education and legislation have had more success in the past, and have less potential for success in the future than a technological solution. Hear me out: from the middle of the 20th century, prevalence of tobacco use has declined among the US population, largely due to the education of the public about the associated risks of tobacco use. Among a certain segment of the population, education is *very* effective. This segment, of course, is the proportion of people that are willing to learn. On the other end of the spectrum are people that are apathetic toward whatever the "facts" might say, and these people are completely out of reach of any awareness program ever (or yet to be) invented. Legislation has undoubtedly played a part in the nationwide decline as well. It is effective as long as people obey the law, and more effective when multiple people are held to account (for example, it is unlawful for SA to sell a 12-year old kid cigarettes, and both the attendant and the kid have to break the law in order for a minor to buy tobacco). However, programs like increasing the tax on cigarettes and limiting locations where smoking is allowed, while making tobacco consumption more inconvenient do not really affect the smoking rates in the population. Legislation will *never* be able to achieve a high degree effectiveness, because the citizens it is meant to protect must willfully subject themselves to it or have it enforced under some kind of penalty. Technology has not offered as much in reducing the morbidity, although treatments for emphysemas and smoking-related cancers would probably fall under the technological solutions umbrella. However, as far as effectiveness goes, technological solutions do not have the same kind of limits set on them by human nature that education and legislation have. So, perhaps in the future the ethical balance will begin to tip this direction- as people begin to realize that interventions of any kind are unethical if their probability of success is nil. Unfortunately, right now, if I'm not mistaken, a public health program of this type would have the least empirical support for why it should be implemented.

Legislation is, by nature, an infringement on liberty. Really, it does not take choice away from people, so much as it simply makes certain options less appealing by associating them with various penalties. These all have to be enforced and thus further reduce liberties of those they are leveed against, as well as the greater society that finances this effort (through freedom of spending, etc.). Technological solutions are burdensome in that they take a lot of time, money and work to develop, and often they create new social and ethical issues of their own. Education is probably the least burdensome of the three, although mandatory education is, I suppose, a type of encroach upon freedom as well (although arguably not as severe as the kind legislation causes).

But also, a primary hurdle for an ethical intervention to clear is that of fair implementation. The major obstacle for all three of type of interventions that I suggested is SES, which is negatively associated with tobacco use. Things like the cigarette tax will hit the poor in society the hardest. One thing we know for sure is that making poor people poorer will *not* make them more likely to stop smoking; however, being poorer will significantly decrease their chances of being able to utilize technological solutions and being educated away from not using tobacco. The SES gradient ensures that any kind of punishment that we can attach to smoking will be more easily avoided by the well-to-do who break the same laws as the poor. Again, I think education would probably be more fairly applied than technological or legislative approaches due to the availability of the public school system.

Wow, I wrote a lot about this; I'm going to call myself done for now. But, in conclusion I am going to say that legislation is wholly undesirable compared to educational and technological approaches to tobacco control. Education would be the perfect solution in a perfect world, in which people were rational and made well-informed decisions based on data and long-term gain. Innovations in the physics of tobacco use and its consequences could one day be the most effective way to deal with the tobacco problem, but right now we're still waiting for said innovations to come along while hundreds of people die every day...

I don't know. Period.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The right to immorality (but only for the unbeliever)

TO every conscious being is given a responsibility by God to ensure that they themselves live morally. To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly before God; to have no other Gods before him; to love God with all their heart, mind and strength; and to see the man jumped by robbers on the way to Jericho, and, instead of passing him by, to bandage his wounds and see that he is cared for at our own expense. Living in this way is what God expects.

Of the people that are blessed enough to realize that this lifestyle is, in fact, God's will, only some of them will realize that it is right but it is unlivable, because human nature renders us incapable of living to this standard. Thus, they ask for Christ's help, and study his example in leading this sort of life, and necessarily in doing so, they become part of the church. At this point, it becomes their obligation to see that the rest of the church is constantly looking to Christ to live as God commands, as it says in Hebrews,

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

However, christians should always be wary of holding the outside world to the same standards that we are held to by the word. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5,

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”

We may and probably will find it more difficult to maintain our standard of morality as our culture becomes more depraved, but that is *our* problem, not the unbeliever's. Their sin is all they have and it will not let go of them, even as God casts it into hell. God, in his wisdom, gave them free will "to do harm or to do good". How dare we declare him wrong by trying to make the moral decisions of others for them, even as we admit we are incapable of making our own?