Simpson’s Paradox

People can often get things very wrong when they try to read advanced material from a field before they understand the basics, and this matters today because so many people – often driven by a distrust of science and medicine – insist on “doing their own research”. Working out cause and effect from simple statistical data can seem easy, straightforward and intuitive, but it’s not. Continue reading

The Art of Human Rationality

For anyone who wants to believe that the Apollo moon landings were faked, or that MMR vaccine causes autism, or even that we’re ruled by lizard people, an internet search will quickly oblige your curiosity with plenty of sophisticated arguments – not to mention a supportive community of other believers – to permit you to believe what you sought to. But if you’d like to figure out what’s actually true, this strategy is rather poor. Continue reading

Social Networks and Nuclear Physics

A chain reaction is a phenomenon that happens when one event can cause similar events to occur. The main thing that the outcomes of these chain reaction phenomena all depend on critically on is the answer to one question: how many additional events does each event cause on average? The outcome of a chain reaction can be dramatically different depending on this number. Continue reading

The Quick Draw Game – Part 2 – Exploration and Exploitation

In Quick Draw you don’t actually have five seconds to draw the chosen subject, because you have to use part of the five seconds to decide how you’re going to draw it. The most important skill in the game is deciding how much of the five seconds you spend thinking about what you’re going to draw, and how much you spend actually drawing. Making this decision involves solving a problem known as the exploration/exploitation tradeoff. Continue reading

Controversial Claims

When something is controversial, sometimes that means that mankind simply doesn’t have a complete understanding of the subject yet. Other times there isn’t a controversy because the knowledge doesn’t exist, but merely because there are some who don’t understand the current state of our knowledge. Continue reading

Belief by Default

We have a bad habit of accepting ideas too easily, without really considering them before we decide to believe them. Our own intuition about how we form beliefs is that when we first encounter an idea first we first try to understand its meaning, then we think about it a bit and finally decide whether to believe it or not. Research in psychology has suggested that this is not always the case. Continue reading

What’s The Harm?

There’s plenty of harm directly caused by beliefs in psychic powers, medical quackery, and all sorts of other common types of irrationality, but even if everyone suddenly stopped believing in those things today, we’d still have the social acceptance and predispositions to flawed reasoning that allowed people to believe in them in the first place. Continue reading