Spock, that dress, and how scientists get tricked

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]

If you troll the WorldWide Web, you’re familiar with the recent controversy about that dress that’s either white-and-gold or blue-and-black. If you haven’t seen it, google it.

People across the Internet weighed in on whether the dress is white-and-gold or black-and-blue. Only a few made complete fools of themselves, one being Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) with this tweeted trifecta of error:

sja deception blog Chris Murphy 150302

Chris Murphy        ✔ @ChrisMurphyCT


I know three things: 1) the ACA works; 2) climate change is real; 2) that dress is gold and white.


The “ACA” that supposedly works is the utterly disastrous “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” known as Obamacare. The “climate change is real” bit presumably means that catastrophic, man-made Global Warming is real (no one disputes that New York City is no longer covered by a glacier, which means that “climate change is real”). As for the dress… here it is, in the center:

sja blog deception black and blue dress 150302

As Bugs Bunny might say of Senator Murphy, “What a maroon!”

…so why do people argue about the color of the dress? Why do some see it as white-and-gold, some as black-and-blue?

Several factors contribute to the dress color problem, including the way that photography works and the way that images are displayed on electronic screens. But the main factor is one I’ve discussed before in this space, that our brains, in order to focus on the information that’s truly important, must filter out the vast majority of sensory input. Our brains use algorithms, little tricks to make sense of the world around us. Magicians, con men, intelligence operatives, and politicians exploit the inevitable, necessary flaws in these processes.

So our brains judge colors in part by contrasting one area of an image with another. See these dogs?

sja blog deception Color Dogs with background 150302

Here are the same dogs without the background.

sja blog deception Color Dogs without background 150302



Going, in bold colors

This sort of problem has come up before, among (of all people) fans of Star Trek.

Captain Kirk’s uniform in the original Star Trek series was, depending on your perspective, gold or green. Here’s an explanation (http://startrekmyths.tumblr.com/post/27767952703/kirks-uniform-is-not-gold-its-green ):

Kirk’s Uniform is Not Gold – It’s Green!

Contrary to most people’s perception of what Captain Kirk’s original command division tunic looks like, the costume worn by William Shatner on Star Trek (1966) was [actually] not the color of gold or mustard, but a shade of avocado green! In order to create a uniform design that photographed gold on original 60s film stock and under the lighting conditions on set, costume designer William Ware Theiss had to use a greenish hue when he dyed the velour for the uniforms. “It photographed one way – burnt orange or a gold. But in reality was another; the command shirts were definitely green”, Theiss recalls in an interview.

Contemporary versions of the uniform as costumes, however, try to emulate the gold look of the television appearance rather than replicate the authentic (but ultimately false looking) lime green color. Below is a comparison of how the uniform appeared on television and how the original costume acutally looks under more normal lighting.

sja blog deception Captain Kirk 150302

(Source: http://www.startrekpropauthority.com/2008/05/bill-theiss-lost-interview-rare.html)


One website that sells Star Trek costumes actually sells the Kirk uniform in different colors, with this note (http://www.anovos.com/blogs/news/14900365-standard-vs-premier-or-what-color-was-captain-kirk-s-tunic ):

You see the distinction [between the differently colored versions]?  When we brought our Premier Star Trek tunics to some of the first conventions we attended, we always got the same questions-“Why is your Captain Kirk tunic green?” “Shouldn’t Captain Kirk’s shirt be gold?” and so on.  Our response was always to educate people to the fact that the costume William Shatner wore in the third season of Star Trek was this shade of avocado-green, and that it only looked gold on camera.  Some understood, some didn’t, and some walked away saying that they didn’t care what color it was on the stage, Kirk’s tunic was gold.  It was the last comment that always got to us.  “You don’t care? We’ve made a tunic that could pass for an original in the Smithsonian, and you don’t care?”

Years pass and more convention conversations later, and we realize that there are lots of people who want to wear Captain Kirk’s tunic that are walking away because they want something that looks more like what they saw on TV.  Ok, but we don’t want to change the Premier tunic as it’s already perfect.  What to do? Create a new line of replicas that display the same attention to detail and accuracy but tune the color closer to what most people’s expectations are.

…which reminds me of the Coconut Effect, when people are so used to something fake that they refuse to accept the real thing. See http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheCoconutEffect


I am not Spock

At this point, let us note the passing of the great Leonard Nimoy, the actor behind the iconic character of Mr. Spock. When Barack Obama ran for president, and early in his presidency, he was sometimes depicted as a Spock-like figure (see, for example, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2009/05/the_logic_of_empathy.html ), based in part on the myth that the President is exceptionally intelligent. In a sense, though, the comparison was apt. Spock was smart, all right, a master of science, but, like many scientists, he was blind to deception. That made Kirk, not Spock, the smarter of the two. (Don’t believe me? See Season 1, Episode 10, “The Corbomite Maneuver”– I told you I was a Trekker!–in which (http://www.philosophynews.com/post/2011/01/24/A-Penny-for-Your-Corbomite.aspx )—

the Enterprise is outmatched by an alien with superior intellect and technology. Balok has given the Enterprise ten minutes to prepare for their demise. When the clock runs down, he will destroy her. After attempts to break away from Balok’s tractor beam which pushes the Enterprise to her limits, Chief Science Officer Mr. Spock logically analyzes the situation and is forced to admit defeat. “In chess, when one player is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate.” All seems lost until Captain Kirk, never to be constrained by something as limited as logic, realizes a way out: the bluff. “Not chess Mr. Spock. Poker.” he replies with his characteristic confidence and swagger.

Scientists are particularly susceptible to deception because science is based largely on trust. That’s because science is rooted in replicable experimentation and research. If you lie about your results, someone else, following the same path, doing the same research or copying your experiments, will expose you as a fraud. Therefore, scientists may sometimes err but they rarely deceive—right? That’s how it’s supposed to work. But that’s not how it really works. The fact is that scientists make claims every day that are never checked out. My experience is that most widely reported “scientific research” on matters of public controversy is badly flawed, and much of it is just complete and utter… um… I believe the term is “Barbra Streisand.”

Electrons don’t lie. But scientists studying electrons do.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Gambler’s Fallacy, which Wikipedia describes this way:

The gambler’s fallacy, also known as the Monte Carlo fallacy or the fallacy of the maturity of chances, is the mistaken belief that, if something happens more frequently than normal during some period, it will happen less frequently in the future, or that, if something happens less frequently than normal during some period, it will happen more frequently in the future (presumably as a means of balancing nature). In situations where what is being observed is truly random (i.e., independent trials of a random process), this belief, though appealing to the human mind, is false. This fallacy can arise in many practical situations although it is most strongly associated with gambling where such mistakes are common among players.

When I’m speaking before an audience, I’ll sometimes mention the Gambler’s Fallacy and ask, “If I flip a coin and get heads, what is the chance of getting heads on the next flip? 50-50. If I flip a coin two times and get heads twice, what’s the chance of getting heads the next time? 50-50. How about three times? 50-50.”

Then I ask: “In fact, if I flip a coin 20 times and get heads 20 times, what’s the chance of getting heads on the next flip?” People in the audience respond, with Spock-like logic, “50-50.” The correct answer, of course, is “100 percent, or, perhaps, whatever the flipper wants it to be.” That’s because the chance of getting 20 heads in a row without cheating (or some other factor making the flips non-random) is less than one-in-a-million. To be precise, it’s 1 in 1,048,576. Compared to the chance of getting 20 heads in a row naturally, it’s much, much more likely that the process is rigged somehow.

Scientists are more likely than most to fall for this trick, because they “know” the correct answer to questions related to the Gambler’s Fallacy, that the result of previous flips has no effect on the chance of getting heads on the next flip. Ironically, someone ignorant about such things is more likely to get the correct answer.

Allen’s Rule: When it comes to controversial questions, scientists have a hard time seeing through Barbra Streisand.


A funny count

Example #1: According to the major news media, we are now facing a Mass Extinction, the 6th such in the natural history of earth. Species are vanishing at a rapid clip, like never before since the rise of the species Homo sapiens. We know this because… well, just because.

In fact, we don’t have the slightest idea how many species exist on earth. There’s a very good reason for this: The concept of “species” is one that was created by humans for the convenience of humans and has little to do with how nature really operates.  Like the “trimester” in human pregnancy, which the Supreme Court elevated to Settled Science in Roe v. Wade, it’s something we made up.

This is important. Much of the coercive power of the federal bureaucracy stems from its ability to declare species (including groups of living things that most scientists don’t consider to be separate species) as species, and to classify them as endangered—another concept that is a judgment call for humans with little connection to the real world. Once a population, subspecies, or maybe-kinda-sort-species is declared to be an endangered species, the unelected, unaccountable, usually anonymous, and often extremist bureaucrats making that classification can shut down industries and major government projects any time they wish. It’s likely that most species on earth are, by bureaucratic standards, endangered… and that, at any given point in the life of this planet, most species are endangered, and that this would have been the case a million years ago or 10 million or 100 million years ago… and that every acre on earth contains some lifeform that a bureaucrat could, if he or she so chose, declare to be an endangered species. In other words, it’s a power that makes no sense and that has no limit.

We know, from many sources, that it’s estimated that more than 99 percent (or 99.9 percent) of the species that have ever lived on earth are now extinct. As you might guess, those are made-up figures. We have no idea how many species are on earth today, and we especially have no idea how many lived in the past. So, as an example of what scientists call a SWAG (Scientific Wild-A**ed Guess), they say that “more than 99 percent” or “more than 99.9 percent” are extinct.

The California Academy of Sciences reported in 2011 (“How Many Species on Earth?’” http://www.calacademy.org/explore-science/how-many-species-on-earth ):

Eight million, seven hundred thousand species! (Give or take 1.3 million.)

That is a new, estimated total number of species on Earth—the most precise calculation ever offered—with 6.5 million species found on land and 2.2 million dwelling in the ocean depths.

Until now, the number of species on Earth was said to fall somewhere within the large range of 3 and 100 million.

Wikipedia, in its article on biodiversity, claims:

Estimates of the present global macroscopic species diversity vary from 2 million to 100 million, with a best estimate of somewhere near 9 million, the vast majority arthropods.

Mike Kimmitt wrote recently in The American Thinker (http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/02/plenty_of_wiggle_room_in_scientific_certainty.html ):

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are between 1.4 million and 1.8 million unique species that have been “scientifically documented.” (Assuming university-trained biologists can count and they actually have documented their findings, do they really need wiggle-room on the order of 400,000 species, more or less?) They also are confident more than ten million unknown species are yet to be encountered. How the heck do they know, or even assume, that?

These scientists, who are forever boasting that they deal in facts only, are conceding they have no clue what the base number of the total species might be. Yet they feel confident in extrapolating how many species will be wiped forever from the face of the Earth next Thursday and assigning blame for this holocaust. This leads us to wonder if they are including in their numbers the extinction of species they don’t even know exist.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) reported researchers were “startled” to learn from one study on just 19 trees in Panama that “80% of 1,200 beetle species discovered were previously unknown to science.” But after the WRI admitted “scientists have a better understanding of how many stars there are in the galaxy than how many species there are on Earth,” the WWF resolutely warned that global biological diversity declined exactly 28% between 1970 and 2005.

Next time you hear that nonsense about the 6th Great Extinction, ask the nonsense-speaker how many species there are now, and how many there were 10 or 50 or 200 or a thousand years ago. You may get an admission that we don’t know how many there are, or how many there were… followed by a claim that we may not know how many there are or how many there were but we know how fast the number is going down.

Neat trick, emphasis on trick.


To serve man

Example #2 of scientific baloney: SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.

I’ve written before about the Drake Equation, a piece of gimcrackery popularized by scientist and Barbra Streisand artist Carl Sagan. (See http://capitalresearch.org/2014/01/like-the-social-cost-of-carbon-youll-love-the-drake-equation .) It’s the formula that supposedly “proves” that there’s lots of intelligent life on other planets and that, gosharoonie, if we just listen carefully enough, we’re bound to find it.

If you have a third-grader’s understanding of math, you should be able to take a quick look at the Drake Equation and see the obvious flaw. It’s a mathematical formula in which some of the factors are completely and utterly unknown and unknowable.  In essence, it’s this argument: “There’s intelligent life on other planets. How do we know? Because.”

Interestingly, people who pursue SETI for a living are prominent members of the effort to paint Global Warming theory skeptics (i.e., smart people) as “deniers” like Holocaust deniers.  (Out of kindness, I will put aside for the moment the fact that applying the term “deniers” to GW skeptics can be taken as downplaying the Holocaust.)

SETI, like Global Warming, is a quasi-religion for people who pride themselves on not believing in mainstream religion. The baseless beliefs of SETIers are reflected in the recent claim at a NASA (!) conference that we are likely to detect intelligent ETs by 2040 or so, and in the false claims, breathlessly repeated on the evening news, about all the “earthlike” planets that have been found in our studies of other solar systems. No earthlike planets have actually been found. Generally speaking, the supposedly earthlike planets that have been found are simply at a distance from their star that’s considered moderate close and moderately far like earth’s. That’s only one of countless characteristics that would actually make a planet earthlike by any reasonable standard. (Notice the parallel? As with regard to the classification of populations as “endangered” and as “species,” poorly-informed opinions, when held by scientists, are called “science” by folks who don’t know any better.)

Of course, even if those intelligent ETs were out there, and close enough for use to contact, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea for us to reach out. Most likely, if ETs didn’t consider us beneath their notice, they’d see us as slaves or as food, or perhaps as a 10-year-old boy with a magnifying glass sees the ants in an anthill.

Nevertheless, the SETIers want—can you guess?—more money for their search, so they can ramp it up by actively attracting the attention of our Insect Overlords. Here’s a decent article on the subject, albeit one that takes the SETIers seriously, from the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-latest-debate-about-space-aliens-should-we-say-hello-or-keep-quiet/2015/02/28/43aa4a52-bcf5-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html

Note that, per the article, some SETIers are still spouting that bafflegab that aliens might already be enjoying I Love Lucy reruns because they’re encountered that sphere of radio/TV signals that has been escaping earth at the speed of light for decades.  In fact, those old signals have turned to gibberish long before they’re likely to reach anyone Out There.


A weapon in their arsenal

I’ve written before about Type B deception—a type of deception so powerful that it persists even after the trick has been revealed. (See, for example, http://capitalresearch.org/2014/12/your-own-lyin-eyes .) You see it, above, in that trick with the two dogs.

One example of Type B deception: We now know that the racial classifications used by the U.S. government, academic institutions, and major corporations are fake, pseudoscientific, and designed for the purpose of oppressing people, yet those classifications continue in use. (During a recent visit to a doctor, I was informed that the categories are part of Obamacare and I was asked accordingly to classify myself. How moronic are the categories? To give just one example, the “Asian” category lumps together people of Afghan, Indian, Kazakh, Japanese, and Filipino descent. Obamacare, by the way, is so anti-science that it includes, among its mandates, such pseudoscientific forms of “medical” treatment as acupuncture, herbalism, chiropractic, and aromatherapy.)

Another example of Type B deception: We now know that Global Warming theory doesn’t work, that the models put out by the United Nations failed and that Global Warming “paused” at the end of the 20th Century. Even the recent hoax that 2014 was “the hottest year on record” were based on Obama administration claims that the world’s temperature has increased, in the past nine years, at the breakneck pace of one degree every 225-450 years (which is, in reality, too small an increase for science to detect). Yet the Obama administration is proceeding with plans, based on Global Warming theory, to shut down the U.S. coal industry and cripple efforts at American energy independence.

From the Martin/Zimmerman hoax and the Ferguson hoax, to the Rolling Stone “campus rape” hoax (including the made-up statistic that one in five women is raped on campus), to the Obama administration hoax that Benghazi was caused by a YouTube video and that Al Qaeda/ISIS was “on the run,” Type B deception is one of the most important tools in the arsenal of the Far Left.


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