Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In Defense of Stupid Studies

Last weekend I was hanging with friends when the topic got around to the government wasting money on stupid studies. Their gripe was about a study that showed that the rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is more common among troops who had done multiple tours in Iraq than those who had done fewer.

While I agree that the government should not be paying for these studies, I tried to argue that the studies themselves aren’t wastes. Even ones that show “well duh!” conclusions like proving that people watch TV to alleviate boredom are not a waste of time or money.

Over the past week I’ve come up with two arguments against what is fundamentally a failure to appreciate different qualities of knowledge.

First: What you might call obvious, I might call an assumption. It comes down to different requirements in what it takes to “know” something. My first retort to my friends’ questioning of doing this study is that conventional wisdom gets slammed quite frequently by someone rigorously examining the evidence. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with an answer to the retort “When have you ever heard of such a case?” At the best I could recall nothing better than how everyone “knew” that the sun revolved around a flat earth. It took a couple of days to remember reading about experiments showing that being physically chilled does not make one more likely to catch a cold, or that eating less than half an hour before swimming does not increase the rate of getting cramps. Imagine if either of these experiments had confirmed the conventional wisdom? Then the old hindsight bias kicks in and the money spent on is declared “wasted”.

Second: A stupid study tests not only the obvious conclusion but the concepts that go into the creation of the obvious conclusion. To butcher an old expression: Scientific discovery is not heralded by “Eureka” but by “What the (bleep), that doesn’t make any sense.” The result of a study is said to make sense if it fits with the previous conclusions that make up the dominant theory. If the data makes sense, then the paradigm is just hunky-dory. If not, one of those pesky paradigm shifts is in the offing, or at least will be once the parameters of the experiment have been verified down to the last measure. The tricky part is that one never knows just which conclusion is the one that will be the thread that unravels the whole conceptual sweater.

So next time you hear about a study that leaves you saying, “I could have told you that,” think instead that you have been given proof that you were right all along. That and future generations won't think you quaint for believing something just because it was superficially obvious.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Return of a Dirty Word

The word for today is Responsibility.

From Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: re·spon·si·bil·i·ty
Pronunciation: ri-"spän(t)-s&-'bi-l&-tE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -ties
1 : the quality or state of being responsible : as a : moral, legal, or mental accountability
One of the greatest pastimes in the world today is to stick others with it so that you don't have to. We have a real peach of an example in the car crash in Gary, Indiana. There is definitely some stink on this story for the police over the sloppy handling of the scene. But that does
not let the driver, Darius Moore, off the hook for his part of the event.

Too bad that he doesn't seem to agree.
"I'm angry at police because I thought they could have found my friends, and they probably would be alive today if [police] had just done their job," he said.
And here's the real winner:
"A lot of people tell me that it wasn't my fault, that there was nothing that I could do," said Moore, a senior at Gary's West Side High School. "I realize that it wasn't my fault, but sometimes I feel like it was -- it really wasn't -- but it's just how I feel sometimes."
Let us look at that first quote. "Probably would be alive." Aside from flat denying what the coroner reported that the injuries would have been fatal instantly, there is still the fundamental conditional in effect. "Probably would be alive" applies just as well to making sure your passengers were wearing their seatbelts (something that the passengers should have taken on themselves).

More to the point "Certainly would be alive" would apply if young Mr. Moore had not been drinking. The violence applied to the guardrail in one of the photos at CNN certainly doesn't look like 40 MPH after several rolls. Either alcohol impaired his ability to react to a 40 MPH blowout, or he was going the 80 MPH earlier reports indicated.

At the very least, Darius' friends put their lives in his hands when they got in his car. If he had shown more care, they would not have had their fates rest in the hands of sloppy cops in the first place.

As for the second quote , there might not have been anything he could have done after the accident, but there was plenty he should and shouldn't have done before.

Update: Speaking of responsibility, I neglected mine to link to Venomous Kate's Bite Me before sending my trackback . I apologize for the discourtesy and dread the thought that the bite will be harder than I can handle.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Did Tim Taylor Kill the Do-it-Yourselfer?

Let’s take as our starting point the Popular Mechanics article by Glenn Reynolds about the decline of manual skills in society. He ends the article with point that I had to admit came very close to the mark personally:

Most people can do more than they think they can, and it’s often fear of failure as much as lack of skill that keeps people from tackling hands-on tasks.

Speaking from experience, I know how easy it is to fall into the mindset of better to do nothing than do something wrong. Been there, done that, would have bought the T-Shirt but wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do.

Fortunately I have a job that allows me to start with the engineering I went to school for and expand my more manual skills in the course of setting up tests. Confidence in a great thing, I recommend it for everyone.

And there lies the rub. Many people fear being caught out in false confidence. The show “Home Improvement” rested entirely on the premise of the Do-it-Yourselfer who is totally clueless despite his self-professed competence. After that, a leaky faucet suddenly looks like a chance to be branded as a Doofus Dad for the rest of one’s life.

One other factor that plays into to hesitancy to practice manual skills is that when you make or repair something, you take the responsibility that you have done it right. Responsibility is a dirty word the days. I think that many people find a sort of comfort in the thought that if something goes wrong when someone else does it they can sue. That safety net is gone when you do it yourself. The cynic in me is waiting for the first lawsuit to come from someone botching a home repair after taking one of those classes at Home Depot.

And to end this post on a barely related thought: Who does the repairs at John Edwards’s estate? You would think that a contractor would have to be insane to risk the liability repairing any trial lawyer’s home.

Update: Greetings to all of you coming from Instapundit. I would invite you all to take a long look around, but this site is just now coming off hiatus.

Friday, September 07, 2007

What a Man Wants: Wedding Edition

Hey all,

Long time no write I know but I have been tied up figuratively for more than a couple of weeks.

What brings me out of hibernation is this post at Electric Venom about the perception of men that women want them to be able to read their minds. Like every guy, I have felt that way at one point or another. I'm not going to go there right now, but I would like to talk about how a guy, namely me would rather go about planning his wedding.

I am not going to say "Not at all". I can tough it out because it means a lot to Trish and I would like to have stuff that I like there as well. The big thing that gets to me is all of the small things that I really don't think of as important to me (such as centerpieces or favors) that she insists on having my input in. The moment I say, "OK, I like this one," she says, "Oh."

You guys know the tone that she uses. The one that says that this is not really a wedding favor catalog but a Cosmo quiz and your selection has just put you in the category of "Call animal control immediately" .

Suddenly, you get this feeling in your gut that your whole relationship is going down the drain because your incompatibility over place holder cards indicates a deeper rift. Let me tell you something ladies, few things make a guy uncomfortable like being judged on his taste.

I suggested the fix of going like this: Trish can look through magazines and catalogs to her heart's content. Once she feels like she has found her four or five favorites, she can come to me for my opinion of what I like best. Simple and to the point.

Because this is my nightmare scenario: I find something I really like, and she finds something that she really wants, and we fight about it. Or more insidiously, I don't fight and tell her to go with what she wants. Then she might come back with that she doesn't want me to only like it because she wants it. That way lies madness.

Like I said before, I really don't care about these incidentals, especially not enough to fight over them. She knows that my only request to her for our wedding day, the one irreducible thing that I must insist upon, is "Be there."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hell Reconsidered (or How I Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Gift Registry Shopping)

Most any guy will tell you that shopping, outside of electronics or power tools, is a hell akin to that scene in Total Recall in which Arnold is pulling out the tracking device that had been placed deep in his sinus passage. Particularly if you are registered at a place like Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

That was my thought prior to actually going to BB&B for shopping for items on the registry. First off, they got knives. If anything can get a guy into a kitchen, it is the opportunity to lose a fingertip and a couple of pints of blood trying out their Benihana routines. Looking at the really quality knives just made me happy and wonder how we could put one of those island rangetops in our condo.

What has me looking forward to going back (seeing as how we only made it through half of the first floor before I had to run home to watch the finale of Heroes [note to self: add TiVo to the registry]) even though we have already covered the sharp, pointy objects, is the little gizmo they give you to scan the items onto your online gift registry. Let me tell you, nothing can get a guy into the shopping mood faster than a hand-held electronic doo-dad with a laser that goes "bleep". Without a time limit, Tricia might need some help prying it out of my fingers.

"A twelve-armed scented votive candle chandelier? Why not?"

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Vacation

Trish and I took a long weekend in the Napa Valley. We are very seriously considering having the wedding at Mont La Salle. We visited my uncle, a Christian Brother, who lives there, and the grounds just grabbed her.

Now we get to sell the invitees on a weekend in Napa as part of the wedding experience. Somehow that has not been a difficult sale.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Shouting From the Rooftop

You may recall that I ended the last post with a hint that more good news might be coming. It is the type of news that I felt I should share with my family before proclaiming it to the world at large. So now, without further ado:

Everyone, say hi to Trish. This the the beautiful lady that just a couple of weeks ago agreed to be my wife. When we first started dating, we wanted to keep our relationship on the down-low so that we wouldn't get talked about constantly at work. The whole time I wanted to shout from the rooftops how much I loved her. Well, the whole discrete thing didn't work out as most everybody was talking about if we were or were not an item. With that in mind, and Trish's blessing, I am announcing my love to the world.

(Please, no comparisons to Tom Cruise and Oprah's couch. I think I am being rather dignified here)

For some reason, the engagement seems to come as a surprise to practically no one. We have been dating just since November, yet everyone who knew we were dating seems to be completely unfazed by the announcement. Her best friend said she was not surprised, and her friend in Las Vegas, who has never met me, said she could tell it would happen just by the picture Trish sent her. Even my parents said that they had taken Christmas in the When-will-they-announce-an-engagement pool. My sister had chosen my birthday (April) so I think my parents still have the closest, but that's not the point. It just seems that everybody knew this was going to happen just a bit sooner than we did.

I'll keep you all filled in on details as they happen. In the meantime, Trish has always wanted a wedding on the beach. Anyone know of some good locations in the Southern California area?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Game the World - The Rematch

Hey folks, remember me? It is Winston, Ted, and Gamer, all at once. Game the World is back on the lively list. I'm calling this post the rematch because the world pretty well kicked my ass last time around. In this new incarnation of the site I might get into the personal type of stuff.

I didn't do that before because my life wasn't really anything to write home about. Things really hit bottom about a couple of years ago, and my interest in the political and philosophical just waned to zero around summer of last year. There might come a time where I will write about that dark shit, but I haven't decided for sure about that yet.

For now, I will stick with the good stuff. I started a new job back in August for a firm that does testing on materials for the construction industry. My work, in the vernacular, is to break stuff under controlled circumstances and write reports in egg-head speak. It isn't the aerospace industry that I had always wanted, but the culture of my new company doesn't have the constant deadline pressure that turns people on one another's throats. My boss, Jay, is the first one I have ever had that seems almost happy to answer my construction-neophyte questions.

Further good news, I broke one of the oft-cited rules of the workplace. I went fishing off the company pier, and I caught a beauty. Her name is Tricia and she does the accounting at the company. Somehow I have found someone who shares my significantly off-kilter sense of humor. I have never been with anyone with whom I have clicked so well with.

Things are looking up, and I hope to be back soon with more good news.