Monday, December 29, 2014

Thinking Skills

Thinking Skills (Average Joe Edition/Addition)

The following is an attempt to organize my posts related to clear thinking, problem solving and decision making into a coherent, easy to use format. As the title suggests, I'm just an average guy trying to get a better understanding of these topics and as such, have no doubt oversimplified or misunderstood some of these concepts. Perhaps they may be of some benefit to someone out there but please do your own research.

I. Fundamentals of Informal Logic

  A. Informal Logic in a Nutshell: Argument & Argument Analysis

  B. Deductive Arguments
      1) Categorical Logic
      2) Propositional Logic

  C. Inductive Arguments
      1) Inductive Generalization
      2) Statistical Syllogism
      3) Analogical Arguments
      4) Causal Arguments
          a. Mill's Methods
          b. Bradford Hill criteria

  D. Abductive Arguments

  E. Logical Fallacies
     -Ad Hominem
     -Appeal to Authority
     -Appeal to Popularity
     -Argument from Ignorance
     -Begging the Question/Circular Reasoning
     -False Analogy
     -False Dichotomy
     -Guilt by Association
     -Hasty Generalization
     -Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
     -Red Herring
     -Tu Quoque
     -Straw Man

II. Cognitive Psychology

  A. Dual Process Model of Thinking
  B. Cognitive Bias
     -Confirmation Bias and Positive Test Strategy
     -Dunning-Kruger Effect
     -Framing Effect
     -Gambler's Fallacy
     -Outcome Bias

III. Problem Solving
  A. Problem Solving Process

IV. Information/Knowledge Management
  A. Outline

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Name a Star... and lose $54 bucks

Over the last few weeks, during my drive to work, I've been hearing those commercials on the radio where, for $54 dollars you can name a star after someone. Yep, that's right. For the low price of $54 dollars, the very official sounding International Star Registry will provide you with a beautiful, full color parchment certificate personalized with the star's name, date and coordinates along with a detailed star chart showing your star circled in red.

The commercial goes on to say that since 1979 the International Star Registry has named countless stars for celebrities, dignitaries, royalty and Joe Schmoes just like you. The star name is recorded in the Astronomical Catalog which will be registered with the U.S. copyright office.

With Christmas right around the corner, you might be thinking this would be the perfect gift. In this ephemeral world that we live, who wouldn't want something which would provide a sense of permanency. A star in our name, something that would be there long after we are gone. A small reference to our existence, immortalized for future generations to see.

Yes, it would indeed be the perfect gift, if it wasn't largely a scam.

Though the International Star Registry sounds very official, in reality they are not recognized or used by any scientific institutions. They are a private, for profit company which is simply finding a star, labeling it with the purchased name and recording it in their catalog. That's it. The catalog is simply a company database. It is not used by the scientific community. In reality, it seems the International Astronomical Union (IAU) "is the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and surface features on them. And names are not sold, but assigned according to internationally accepted rules."

It should be noted that there is nothing illegal with what International Star Registry is doing. When I said earlier that it was a scam, I didn't mean that the company was breaking the law, only that what they are doing is deceptive. And while it may seem like a largely harmless deception, there are people that experience a heavy emotional disappointment when learning the truth. As Stuart Atkinson wrote on his blog Cumbrian Sky "I feel very strongly about, I don’t mind admitting. Why? Because I am tired of having to disappoint and upset people who come to me as star parties and astronomy meetings, asking me if I can help find the star they “named” after their deceased mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, fiance, wife, husband, grandmother, grandfather or pet. These people “buy” stars in good faith, thinking, genuinely, that a way out of – or to at least ease – their grief is to buy a star for their dead loved one, thus immortalising them and preserving their memory. They are led to believe by the advertising blurb that “their star ” will be on view in the sky for all to see… so they come up to me at a star party, ask me to point out the star they bought, or, if it’s cloudy, point it out to them on a star chart or in an atlas. And I feel sick to my stomach when I have to tell them that the star they “bought” and “named” only bears that name in that company’s star registry database, and that you need a telescope to see it."

So save yourself $54 dollars and get a present your loved one will really enjoy. Or, if you are still not dissuaded, send me the money and I'll provide a star for you to name. I'll write it down in a book and keep it safe for you. After all, it isn't much less than what the star naming companies do.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Categorical Syllogisms

Term Logic / Syllogistic Logic / Aristotelian Logic

Originating with Aristotle, term logic was the dominant form of logic used till the the late nineteenth century.  It reasons on the basis of the relationships between categories (referred to as terms).

I. Categorical Terms
The basic unit in categorical syllogistic logic is the categorical term. Categorical terms are simply the placing of things or concepts into distinct classes or categories based on some specified characteristics. Each categorical term divides the world into those things included in the category and those things not included.

II. Categorical Propositions
With categorical terms we can build categorical propositions. A Categorical propositions is a statement with two categorical terms which asserts some relationship between them.

There are four parts to a categorical proposition. In standard form, the first term in the statement is referred to as the subject term (the term which we are saying something about) and the second as the predicate term. The relationship between the subject and predicate terms is described through the use of a copula and quantifier. The copula (also referred to as quality) denotes either an affirmative/inclusive relationship (are) or negative/exclusive (are not) relationship. The quantifier provides how much of the subject term relates to the predicate term by use of universal quantifiers (all, none), and particular quantifiers (some).

A model categorical proposition can be represented as:
Quantifier [subject term] copula [predicate term]

So with the example All men are mortal; the word All is the quantifier, men is the subject term, are is the copula and mortal is the predicate term.

There are four types of categorical propositions:

A: Universal Affirmative
All S are P

E: Universal Negative
No S are P

I: Particular Affirmative
Some S are P

O: Particular Negative
Some S are not P

Here are the four categorical propositions illustrated with Venn Diagrams:

III. Categorical Syllogisms
Combining categorical propositions, we create categorical syllogisms. A categorical syllogism is a syllogistic argument consisting of three categorical propositions (two premises and a conclusion) and three categorical terms, each of which is used twice.

There are a total of 256 possible varieties of categorical syllogisms but only 15 are valid (per Boolean logic). Two important valid categorical syllogisms are:

1. All M are P
2. All S are M
3. Therefore all S are P

1. All M are P
2. Some S are M
3. Therefore some S are P

Here is a link to a page which lists all 15 valid categorical syllogisms along with their corresponding Venn diagrams.

The validity of a categorical syllogism can be determined by either applying a set of rules or through the use of Venn diagrams. Here are two links which expand on the subject"
-The six necessary conditions for valid categorical syllogisms
-Testing validity using Venn diagrams

Santa Barbara City College: Philosophy-111 Critical Thinking And Writing: The 15 Valid Syllogistic Forms

Society for Positive Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies (SPPIS): A Classroom Introduction to Logic: Nature of Proposition

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

FCKH8's Insane New Video

I recently watched the controversial (and by that I mean vile) video by T-shirt/activist company FCKH8. It features little girls dressed as princesses angrily shouting about how women are mistreated and abused by our patriarchal society. It does it's best to shock the viewer by making sure the little darlings say the word fuck as often as possible. If you are easily traumatized by offensive language, here is a link to a bleeped version, but I suggest you watch the actual video below to get the full effect.

Even if you agree with its message and accept its controversial statistics (more here and here), there is still plenty to hate this video for. It's implied message is that people who may be offended or critical of the little girls' indignant swearing really have no right to feel that way because of the much bigger gender problems it seeks to address. This type of rationalization seems to me to be a form of the fallacy of relative privation or what is sometimes referred to as the not as bad fallacy. The form of the argument goes something like:

B happened, and is worse then A.
Therefore A is justified.

The obvious problem with this sort of thinking is that the existence of the worse thing does nothing to change the fact that the less bad thing is still bad. Hence the existence of gender inequality or abuse toward women does nothing to change the fact that little girls shouldn't swear and T-Shirt companies shouldn't make vulgar videos which exploit children to push their ideology. I mean any moron should be able to see how completely inappropriate it is to force these young children (the youngest of which was 6) to confront serious adult issues such as rape. I can only hope the backlash FCKH8 receives is enough to keep them from producing future repulsive videos.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Paradise Ghost Town of Varosha

Beautiful sandy beaches adjoin dilapidated high rise hotels making Varosha one of the more intriguing ghost towns. To understand why it was abandoned we have to start with a quick history lesson.

Varosha is a section of the city of Famagusta on the east coast of Northern Cyprus. Cyprus is a Mediterranean island whose population consists of two ethnic communities: Greek and Turkish. The island was under the control of the Ottoman empire from 1571 to 1878 and then under British control from 1878 to 1960.  During British rule there was a growing nationalist movement by the majority Greek Cypriots for union with Greece (enosis). The British opposed the enosis movement which lead to numerous protest, riots and acts of violence. In the late 1950's, Turkish Cypriots responded to the enosis demand by calling for partition (taksim) of the island. In an attempt to deal with increased violence between the two ethnic groups, the London and Zurich Agreements resulted in Cyprus gaining its independence from Britain in 1960. Almost immediately the new government began to fall apart as cooperation between the two sides could not be achieved.

In 1974 there was a coup d'├ętat of the government by the Cypriot National Guard assisted by the military junta which at that time ruled Greece. Then President Makarios III was replaced with a pro-Enosis nationalist dictator named Nikos Sampson. In response to the coup, Turkey invaded the island, taking control of the north. Just hours before the Turkish and Greek Cypriot armies met in Varosha, the entire population fled. Once Turkish forces gained control of the area, it was fenced off and became part of of the Green Line, which is the present day border between the two communities.

To this day the area remains barricaded and patrolled by the Turkish military. Though most items of value were stolen long ago by Turkish soldiers and other marauders, the majority of the areas buildings still exist in various states of decay.

Here are images of Varosha before the 1974 invasion.

Allegedly secret video taken during a U.N. patrol (starts at 1:35)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sci-Fi Short: Yardbird

A really solid sci-fi/paranormal short film from Australian director Michael Spiccia.  Though it doesn't have the most unique story line (with obvious parallels to the classic horror film Carrie), Yardbird is a really put together short with solid acting and beautiful cinematography.

Yardbird from Bridle Path Films on Vimeo.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Straw Man Fallacy

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy of relevance where an arguer distorts or misrepresents his or her opponent's position in order to more easily refute it. The obvious fallacy with this sort of argument is that the weaker, misrepresented position which is being refuted (the straw man) is not the actual claim being made.

Though the etymology of the term is unclear, a commonly stated origin is that it comes from the past use of straw man dummies by the military to train soldiers. Though the dummy represents the enemy it is of course a far easier opponent to defeat than a real person.

The straw man argument has the following form:

Person A has position X.
Person B presents position Y (which is a distortion or misrepresentation of position X).
Person B then attacks position Y (the so called straw man).
Therefore position X is false.

Bob says "It would be a good idea to ban advertising beer and wine on radio and television. These ads encourage teenagers to drink, often with disastrous consequences."

John replies "You cannot get people to give up drinking: they've been doing it for thousands of years."

Bob did not propose that people give up drinking yet John misrepresents it as such providing him with an easier argument to refute.

Methods of Argumentation
The Nizkor Project: Fallacy: Straw Man

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Informal Logic in a Nutshell: Argument & Argument Analysis

I. Argument
An argument is an attempt to persuade by presenting reasons or evidence in support of a conclusion. It consists of a set of propositions in which the supporting propositions are known as the premises and the supported proposition as the conclusion. The process of drawing a conclusion from the premises is called making an inference.

II. Argument Analysis
The analysis of an argument has two basic parts. A) Identifying and reconstructing the argument so that it is clearly understood and free of rhetorical distractions. B) Evaluating whether it is a good (cogent) or bad argument.

A. Identifying and Reconstructing Arguments
Identifying whether a particular speech or text contains an argument is a matter of determining whether it falls within the definition of an argument. As stated above, an argument is an attempt to rationally persuade an audience of the truth of a conclusion by offering premises in support of it.

With this in mind, we can see that many things within the realm of language are not considered arguments. These often include questions, commands, many insults, compliments, descriptions, explanations and so on.

The latest annual inflation rate for the United States is 2.1% through the 12 months ended June 2014.

By itself, this is not an argument but simply a statement used to convey information.

In real world dialogues, it is often difficult to determine exactly what someone's argument is. Perhaps there is a sense that an argument is being presented but it's premises and/or conclusion are unorganized, implied or buried among other elements of the dialogue.

To cut out the clutter and clearly understand just what is being put forward, it is often necessary to systematically reconstruct the argument. When doing so, extraneous material such as rhetorical flourishes, need to be eliminated. Also, premises and conclusions which are implied but not expressly stated need to be clearly written.

When reconstructing arguments, it is important to adhere to the principle of charity. This means that when seeking to understand someones argument, we try to understand it in it's strongest, most persuasive form. To do this, it is necessary to maintain a mindset of trying to reach the truth of the matter instead of one where we are trying to defeat an opponent.

Standard Form
One method of reconstructing arguments is to restate them in standard form. Arguments reconstructed in standard form have their premises listed in the order they occur in the reasoning process and the conclusion listed at the bottom. The premises are usually numbered P1, P2 and so on and the conclusion labelled with a C. A line, called the inference bar, may be drawn between the last premise and the conclusion.

P1  All humans are mortal 
P2  I am a human 
C  I am mortal

Identifying the Conclusion
When reconstructing arguments it is usually easiest to first identify its conclusion. This can often be done by carefully reading the passage or listening to the speech and determining what point the author is trying to make. What is it they are trying to persuade you to believe?  Also, locating indicator words is a good way to locate the parts of an argument. Conclusion indicators (also known as inference indicators) include "therefore", "as a result", "implies", "hence", "thus", "so", "consequently", "suggests that" and "which means". Note: though indicator words can be helpful in identifying the parts of an argument, they can also appear in context outside of arguments. As such, they should be thought of as a helpful tool but not a guarantee.

Identifying the Premises
To find the premises, ask yourself what reasons are given (stated or implied) which support the conclusion. Just as conclusion indicator words can help you locate the conclusion, premise indicator words may help you find the premises. They include "since", "as indicated by", "as shown by", "because","as", "given that" and "considering that". As with conclusion indicators, these should be thought of as useful tools, not guarantees.

B. Evaluating Arguments 
The goal of evaluating arguments is to determine where they fall on the spectrum of good and bad arguments. A good argument is one where the premises are acceptable, and provide relevant and sufficient grounds for the conclusion. In the realm of informal logic, this is often referred to as a cogent argument.

Evaluating arguments using these three factors can be applied in a two step process of first assessing if the premises are acceptable and then assessing if the premisses are relevant and sufficiently support the conclusion. (see note 1 & 2 below)

It should be noted that a bad argument (one that doesn't pass the requirements above) doesn't necessarily mean the conclusion is false. It just means that the argument as presented doesn't provide a good reason to accept the conclusion (see fallacy fallacy).

1. Assessing if  Premises are Acceptable
Assessing the premises of an argument involves appraising whether it is reasonable to accept them. A premise is acceptable if there is some reason to believe that it is true and no good known reason to believe it is false.

2. Assessing if Premises are Relevant & Provide Sufficient Grounds for the Conclusion
A reasonably supported conclusion is one where the premises are both relevant to and provide sufficient grounds for the conclusion.

a) Relevance refers to premises that provide some evidence or offer reasons that support the conclusion or can be arranged in a way from which the conclusion can be derived. Relevance can be categorized as positive relevance, negative relevance and irrelevance.

When assessing an argument we would say that statement A is positively relevant to statement B if the truth of A counts in favor of the truth of B. In other words, A provides some evidence or reason to believe that B is true.

Statement A is negatively relevant to statement B if the truth of A counts against the truth of B. So if A is true, it provides some evidence or reason to believe that B is not true.

Statement A is irrelevant to statement B if it is neither positively relevant nor negatively relevant to B. In other words, when statement A does not logically support or logically undermine statement B, we would say it is irrelevant.

b) Sufficiency refers to the degree of support provided by the premises to support the conclusion. Whereas relevance is a property of individual premises, sufficiency is a judgement made about all the premises that support the conclusion. Hence, to be considered sufficient, the premises must provide enough support to reasonably accept the conclusion.

Note 1: The order in which the process of evaluating arguments isn't important. You can evaluate the acceptability of the premises first and then evaluate the relevance and sufficiency second or vice versa. 

Note 2: Two handy acronym's for evaluating arguments is Blair and Johnson's ARS (Acceptability, Relevance, and Sufficiency) and Govier's ARG (Acceptability, Relevance and sufficient Grounds).

A Practical Study of Arguments, Trudy Govier
Logical Self Defense, Ralph Johnson & Anthony Blair
Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide, Tracy Bowell & Gary Kemp
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Informal Logic
Good Reasons for Better Arguments: Jerome Bickenbach & Jacqueline Davies
The concept of argument, and informal logic, David Hitchcock
On Common Knowledge and Ad Populum: Acceptance as Grounds for Acceptability, David Godden
The truth about truth as a condition of premise adequacy

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Incredible Lion Sculpture

Really amazing lion sculpture I found on Twisted Sifter by Turkish artist Selcuk Yilmaz. The article said it took him 10 months and consists of 4000 pieces of hand cut metal.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Christin Milloy's Infant Gender Assignment Nonsense

I've read some pretty silly articles from Slate before but this one still has me shaking my head in disbelief. A couple months ago the rag published an article by Christin Scarlet Milloy titled Don't Let the Doctor Do This to Your Newborn.

The article begins with a fictitious scenario in which a mother is lying in bed holding her baby, recovering from labor. The doctor comes in to perform some mysterious but standard "treatment." The mother asks what the treatment is and if it's necessary. The doctor replies vaguely that it will help the child to be recognized and get along with the other children who've received the same treatment but warns that for 1 or 2 percent, there are terrible negative side effects which include depression, social ostracism, difficulty finding or keeping a job and suicide.

You might be thinking to yourself, how horrible. Thank goodness parents of newborns don't actually have to face such a scary situation. But according to Milloy, the imaginary treatment described above is real. "Obstetricians, doctors, and midwives commit this procedure on infants every single day, in every single country. In reality, this treatment is performed almost universally without even asking for the parents' consent, making this practice all the more insidious. It's called infant gender assignment: When the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: It's a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring's genitals."

Milloy continues the crazy narrative with explanations on how, beginning with the doctors gender assignment of your baby, the child's life is "instantly and brutally reduced from such infinite potentials down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes, and any behavioral deviation from that will be severely punished—both intentionally through bigotry, and unintentionally through ignorance. That doctor (and the power structure behind him) plays a pivotal role in imposing those limits on helpless infants, without their consent, and without your informed consent as a parent. This issue deserves serious consideration by every parent, because no matter what gender identity your child ultimately adopts, infant gender assignment has effects that will last through their whole life."

And just to drive home the point that Milloy is actually criticizing the doctors declaration of a baby's sex and isn't just using the gender assignment thing as some sort of metaphorical critique, I present this quote. "Infant gender assignment is a wilful decision, and as a maturing society we need to judge whether it might be a wrong action. Why must we force this on kids at birth? What is achieved, besides reinforcing tradition? What could be the harm in letting a child wait to declare for themself who they are, once they're old enough (which is generally believed to happen around age 2 or 3)? Clearly, most children will still turn out like we'd expect, but it's unlikely the extra freedom would harm them. On the other hand, we do know the massive harm caused to some children by the removal of that freedom...Think carefully. Infant gender assignment might just be Russian roulette with your baby's life."

If this article was written anywhere else, I probably would of had to do some research to verify that it wasn't satire. But this isn't satire and as easy as it would be to simply say "this is bat shit crazy" and move on, I feel it deserves some sort of reasoned response.

First, instead of clearly writing what she is arguing for, Milloy instead chooses to heavily saturate the article with rhetorical ploys meant to emotionally persuade the reader. Some of the examples I've already quoted above include calling the doctor's declaration of sex an "insidious" act and comparing it to playing "Russian roulette with your baby's life". Yea, that's right. Milloy seems to believe that a doctor stating "it's a boy" or "it's a girl" is analogically comparable to putting a bullet into a revolver, spinning the cylinder, putting it to the child's head and pulling the trigger.

Milloy uses a similar maneuver at the beginning of the article with his carefully constructed story. She presents a mother facing a somewhat authoritarian doctor ominously wanting to perform a treatment on the new born which may result in long-term negative side effects. It is then revealed to the reader that the hypothetical treatment is actually real and occurs ever day in the form of infant gender assignment. The problem with this, of course, is that a doctor stating the sex of a child is not a treatment. It is, well, just a statement of what is observed. The word treatment implies the use of medical intervention against some sort of illness or injury. That term obviously doesn't apply here.

This leads me to my next point. When a doctor states the babies sex, he or she is simply stating the child's biological gender. It's hilarious how Milloy describes this as an insidious treatment performed without parental consent based on nothing more than a doctors opinion. I'm guessing that for all of human history, whenever a child was born, one of the first things the doctor, midwife or parents have done is to look between the child's legs to see if it was a boy or a girl. But according to Milloy, this very act is to "instantly and brutally" reduce a child "from such infinite potentials down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes, and any behavioral deviation from that will be severely punished."

Generally speaking, looking at a child's genitalia is a good way to determine biological sex. It should be noted though that there are exceptions to this rule. Intersex is the term typically used to describe individuals with a congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system. It seems there are some disagreements as to what should be included in the term intersex and there hasn't been a lot of work done to collect statistical information. According to a 2000 study by Anne Fausto-Sterling, up to 1.7% of babies are born intersex. This statistic includes a wide range of major and minor disorders, some of which are apparent at birth (ambiguous external genitalia) and some which are not (external organs appear male or female but there are internal or chromosomal differences). A second often used statistic is that approximately 1 in 2000 babies are born with ambiguous external genitalia. I found this stat used in a lot of different places but could only find one article which cited it to a 1998 paper by Kenneth Kipnis and Milton Diamond called Pediatric Ethics and Surgical Assignment of Sex. Anyway, taking these two statistics together it seems we can conclude that just over 1% of babies born may have some sort of major or minor intersex condition which would not be obvious at birth.

So after eliminating the rhetorical ploys, what are we left with? It is still not entirely clear what Milloy's argument is. It seems as if she is saying something like:
Transgender and intersexed individuals experience higher rates of psychological distress and suicide. These problems are caused (or mostly caused) by being assigned the wrong gender at birth by a doctor. Therefore doctors shouldn't be allowed to declare the sex of a baby.
Again, there's a great deal of vagueness in Milloy's article which makes it difficult to restate her argument with complete confidence. This is apparent if you read through the comment section of the article where typically the few people that tried to defend her believed she was talking about infant gender re-assignment (when a baby is born with ambiguous genitalia and a doctor performs surgery on the child to make them look more like their assigned gender).

Anyway, the first premise, that transgenders and intersexed individuals experience higher rates of psychological distress and suicide, can be verified as true through available statistical information.

The second premise, that these problems are caused (mostly caused) by being assigned the wrong gender at birth, is where things go terribly wrong. I think it's more than a little naive to believe that the distress experienced by transgender people would all but go away if a transgendered child was given the ability to declare their own sex at a young age.

To demonstrate, lets do a little thought experiment. Imagine Milloy's world comes to pass and doctors cannot "assign" a child's sex at birth. A child is born, the sex has not been declared by the doctor and the parents even raise it completely gender neutral. At the age of three, the child, who is biologically a boy, declares that it believes it is a girl and the parents then allow her to wear dresses, play with dolls and do whatever other things little girls like to do. Now according to Milloy, the child has been spared the trauma of being assigned the wrong gender and therefore shouldn't experience the sort of psychological distress transgenders often do. Of course, this completely overlooks the elephant in the room. Namely that the child is still transgendered; identifying as a girl but having the biology of a boy. As such, she will still face prejudice from society at large and still have to deal with the confusion of having the body of a boy yet identifying as a girl. As such, I think it would be a safe assumption to believe that as a group transgenders would still have exceptionally high rates of psychological issues.

Though it's not addressed in the article, I think it can be assumed that Milloy is wanting more than just the banning of doctors declaring the babies sex. That alone would really change nothing. It seems that what Milloy really wants is for parents to also have to raise the child in a gender neutral way until the baby can decide for its self.

So how is all this to be carried out? Would there be laws making it illegal for doctors to declare the sex of the child? What would they put down for medical records? Would there be laws which forced parents to raise their child in a gender neutral way? If so, how would this be enforced?

Most importantly, how would raising children in a completely gender neutral environment effect those that do not have intersex issues? The truth is, we really don't know. While some so called experts say that it would allow a child to develop free of limiting gender norms, others believe that it can only cause confusion at a point in life when clarity is needed.

In the end I think it's plain to see that this is at best an ill-conceived idea on Milloy's part. But it does raise the interesting question of how we've gotten to the point that it could be taken seriously enough to be published in a major online news magazine.

Slate: Don’t Let the Doctor Do This to Your Newborn

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Critique of Ed Krayewski's NYPD Cops Put Pregnant Woman in a Choke Hold Over Grilling In Front of Her House

I'm a little disappointed in Ed Krayewski's post on titled NYPD Cops Put Pregnant Woman in a Choke Hold Over Grilling In Front of Her House

The blog post begins with reactive, angry, rhetorical language which attempts to preemptively group any potential critics as "police apologist" asking, did you think "Eric Garner should've just fucking complied with police if he wanted to live? Did you think Jahmiel Cuffee should've known better after his first eight marijuana arrests and done a better job hiding from the cops?" This, of course is to set the stage for what must be another obvious example of police abuse, but as I say bellow, this is anything but obvious. It would be nice if we could first read the story first without Krayewski's blatant attempts at Poisoning the Well.

The post then goes on to state "this story involves a pregnant woman, who was put in a chokehold by New York City cops, because she was grilling in front of her house." But when I read the linked New York Post story, I find the facts far less clear than presented. First, the police did not put Rosan Miller in a choke hold for grilling in front of her house. According to the NY Post article police were attempting to arrest her after she and her brother "started slapping at police" to prevent them from arresting her husband. Hmm, I don't know about you but that sounds a lot different than police rolling up on her for cooking some burgers on the sidewalk, snatching her up and tossing her in the cruiser.

Quoting the NY Post article, Krayewski then writes that the woman released photos that she said show the cop putting her in a chokehold. He then goes on to mention that chokeholds are banned by the NYPD but cops may consider the maneuver used a neck restraint. Here are the images released by Rosan which were taken from a cell phone video:

After reading the NY Post article and feeling Krayewski's post wasn't doing the story justice, I started to read articles put out by other news organizations. Strangely I found that they all included some or all of the above images (Huffington Post, Dailymail, Gawker) but where is the actual video from which they come? Could it be the video presents a less compelling story than the pictures?

The only article I could find which did provide the video was the NY Daily News. Here is a link to it so you can watch it for yourself.

Video of NYPD Officer 'Chokehold' on a Pregnant Woman

Though the still pictures may leave the impression that the officer may have used a chokehold, the video (at least in my mind) clearly shows the officer simply trying to control the uncooperative woman in order to put hand cuffs on her.

I haven't taken the time to write this criticism because I'm an apologist for police. On the contrary, I have been critical of law enforcement's decades long move towards becoming ever more militarized and less concerned with constitutional restraints (though this is largely the fault of law makers and judges). My criticism is with the unreasoned, emotional reaction this case has received by those in the media. I'm not trying to say that police didn't do anything wrong. I'm only saying that based on the so called evidence presented, there is nothing that demonstrably shows they did anything wrong.

Recently there have been a number of high profile cases where video taken by a bystander clearly demonstrates abuse by police. Krayewski writes about a number of these in his post. It is absolutely essential that journalist report these incidents to help shine a spotlight on the problem of police misconduct in hopes of curbing future incidents. But as terrible as these incidents might be, journalist still have a responsibility to judge each allegation independently (referring to opinion pieces) and to report the facts of the case completely and without bias. Though Krayewski isn't alone in his frenzied reporting (talking about you Gawker, and HuffPo), I expect more from Reason.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Bernard Pras: Anamorphic Art

This art is garbage...and it's awesome. Cool found object anamorphic piece by artist Bernard Pras. When viewed from the right perspective this pile of trash turns into a sculptural portrait of Ferdinand Cheval, a French postman who spent 33 years stacking stones to construct Le palais ideal.

Pras is well known for his anamorphic works. One of my favorite is the Dali installation, as he is a fitting subject for this sort of mind bending art.

and a couple more for good measure

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Deduction: Deductively Valid & Deductively Sound

Deduction is the process of reasoning from one or more premises to reach a logically certain conclusion. Hence, a deductive argument is one in which if the premises were true, then the conclusion must also be true. This certainty is what distinguishes deductive arguments from other argument forms.

In informal logic circles, the term cogent is typically used to describe a good argument. To some degree, this seems to be an attempt to accommodate deductive and inductive reasoning with a simple set of common terms. Among formal logicians, the word cogent is not commonly used. Instead the terms valid and sound are the standard. 

Deductively Valid Arguments - A valid deductive argument is one in which, if the premises were true, then the conclusion must also be true. The premises deductively entail the conclusion so that it would be impossible for it to be false.  Another way to think about it is to say that with deductively valid arguments, the premises support the conclusion 100%. If the argument does not meet these conditions then it is said to be deductively invalid.

To asses whether an argument is valid, simply assume that the premises are all true (whether they are or not) and consider if it would still be possible for the conclusion to be false. If it is possible for the conclusion to be false, the argument is invalid. If it is not possible, it is a deductively valid argument.

Applying this concept to our informal logic model we find that a deductively valid argument is one in which the premises are relevant to the conclusion and provide sufficient support to guarantee the truth of the conclusion.

Deductively Sound Arguments - A deductively sound argument is one in which the argument is valid and all of it's premises are actually true. Hence, the arguments conclusion is true.

If the argument has one or more false premises, is invalid, or both, it is deductively unsound.

For instance, if I present the argument:

P1 If I can fly over this building, I am Superman.
P2 I can fly over this building.
C  I am Superman.

This is a deductively valid argument since the form of the argument is such that if the premises were true, the conclusion must also be true. It is of course an unsound argument since one or more of it's premises are not true.

Applying the concept of soundness to the informal logic model we find that with relatively few exceptions, arguments that are sound qualify as cogent. There are, however, arguments that qualify as cogent in the ARG sense and do not qualify as sound in the classical sense. One reason is that the standard used to evaluate premises in formal logic is whether they are true or not true. In informal logic, premises are judged by the less stringent criteria of being either acceptable or unacceptible.

The two types of deductive arguments are categorical syllogisms and propositional arguments.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Price of Education (revisited)

Back in 2011 I wrote blog entry on how the average cost of a four year degree had tripled in inflation adjusted dollars from 1980 to 2010. So has there been any change in the three years since? For the most part, not really.

The following table from provides the average tuition/fees and room/board charges from 1971-72 to 2013-14. The data is provides in inflation adjusted 2013 dollars.

As the bottom line indicates, over the last five years average tuition and fees increased another 27%. I seem to remember reading an article within the last year which indicated there was a slowdown in tuition increases which this data doesn't jive with, so I took a glance at the full report and found that there has been a trend of decreasing annual rate increases. The one year change from 2009-10 was 9.5%, 2010-11 6.5%, 2011-12 4.7%, 2012-13 3.1%, 2013-14 0.9%. Does this mean tuition has now leveled out and will just keep pace with inflation? Not necessarily. If you look at the data from my original post you find that annual rate increases do jump around. For instance, in 2008-09 the percentage change was 0.8% only to be followed with a whopping 9.3% increase the next year.

Even if education prices level out it is already an incredibly expensive investment and the young people who have to decide whether to make it are typically ill equipped to do so. Though many of them have financially experienced, caring parents who will help guide them along, it is probably true that just as many do not. And the complete lack of financial/accounting education in high school means that these youngsters typically have no ability to understand the long term effects of having this amount of debt.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

BOUNCE: Guillaume Blanchet

Blend two years of traveling, a soccer ball, lots of editing and what do you get? If you're Guillaume Blanchet the result is a happiness producing, brilliant short film.

Find more about  Guillaume Blanchet here.

BOUNCE - This is not a freestyle movie from Guillaume Blanchet I Filmmaker on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014