Archive for January, 2022

Jan 06 2022

Gambler’s Fallacy and the Regression to the Mean

Published by under Logic/Philosophy

Humans overall suck at logic. We have the capacity for logic, but it is only one of many algorithms running in our brains, and often gets lost in the noise. Further, we have many intuitions, biases, and cognitive flaws that degrade our ability to think logically. Fortunately, however, we also have the ability for metacognition, the ability to think about our own thinking. We can therefore learn logic and how to think more clearly, filtering out the biases and flaws. It is impossible to do this perfectly, so it is best to think of metacognition as a life-long project of incremental self-improvement. Further, our biases can be so powerful, that when we learn how to think about thinking we often just make our logical fallacies more and more subtle, rather than eliminating them entirely.

Some cognitive flaws are evolutionarily baked into our thinking, likely resulting from heuristics that are practical mental shortcuts but not strictly logically valid. There also appears to be some cognitive abilities that were not prioritized in our evolutionary history, and so our finite brain resources were simply not allocated to them. This is where most math and statistically related fallacies derive. We do not deal well with large numbers, and we have terrible intuitions regarding statistics and probability. We have developed elaborate formal systems for dealing with math and probability, essentially to replace or at least augment our intuitive thinking, and often these systems produce results that are counterintuitive.

Perhaps the most famous example of counter-intuitive statistics is the Monty Hall problem. You are given a choice of three doors, behind one is a prize. You can choose one door. The host of this game, who knows where the prize is, then opens one door without a prize (again – they know where the prize is and deliberately choose one of the unchosen doors without a prize), and then ask if you want to change your choice to the other unopened door. If you change your choice your odds of winning go up from 1/3 to 2/3. If you have not encountered this problem before, this may seem counterintuitive, but it is absolutely correct.

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Jan 04 2022

Elizabeth Holmes Guilty of Fraud

There are a lot of complexities to this case, as you might imagine. Some question whether or not Holmes, CEO of the now disgraced Theranos company that claimed it had revolutionized blood testing, was unfairly targeted because she is a woman. Her defense was also complex, including a claim she was abused by her boyfriend. These details are, of course, important in the pursuit of individualized justice. But I want to focus on some big picture factors – what might the results of this case mean?

I first wrote about Theranos in 2016 – I recognized the story as a skeptical cautionary tale. The claims that Holmes was making were implausible in the extreme. She claims her company innovated the technology to perform hundreds of different blood tests with a very small amount of blood and within a short period of time. The public is used to such advances in technology, and this claim, while bold, may seem plausibly incremental. However, medical experts recognized the claim for the nonsense it was. Far from being incremental, such a feat would have required hundreds of scientific breakthroughs all brought to technological fruition in a marketable product. This kind of advance does not come out of nowhere, without a paper trail of scientific research behind it.

Holmes was counting on a general level of scientific illiteracy, specifically to how the process of science works. It is increasingly difficult to make a major discovery or technological advance without all the groundwork being laid by incremental research spread out among various experts and institutions. Often when we hear of a new technology hitting the market, there is 20-30 years of background research. The idea for an mRNA vaccine started in the 1980s, for example. The new medical technologies that are coming online in the last decade have roots that go back decades.

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Jan 03 2022

Are Gas and Nuclear “Green”

Published by under Technology

Whether or not natural gas power and nuclear power plants should be considered “green” (meaning that they are environmentally friendly) is not just an abstract question. The European Commission has proposed plans to label some (emphasis on some) gas and nuclear plants as officially green. This has real-world consequences, such as the ability to receive funding and whether or not they will be considered green financial investments.

Part of the purpose of the proposal is to keep companies from “greenwashing” their portfolio and business activities, by listing which investments are considered officially green (as opposed to ones that may be presented as environmentally friendly when they are not). This proposal, however, has sparked a controversy of its own, with some EU countries, such as Germany, claiming that the proposed rules are a form of greenwashing themselves. Other countries, like France, who depend on nuclear power for 70% of their energy, have pushed for such labeling. Who has the better argument?

Let’s take each technology unto itself, because they really are independent and don’t necessarily have to be taken as a package. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, and burning natural gas for energy does release CO2 into the atmosphere. The supply of natural gas is also increasingly dependent on fracking technology, which injects air and liquids into fossil fuel deposits in order to liberate and gain access to natural gas. This technology has significantly brought down the price of natural gas, resulting in a surge of its use in some countries. This surge has mostly displaced the burning of coal for power, and that is exactly the reason why some believe the technology should be considered green – in comparison to this one alternative.

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

« Prev