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

Spinning The Numbers

Some numbers are easy to visualize. If someone tells you they see three ducks on the lake, or that they just bought a dozen eggs, or that it might snow ten centimeters tonight, you probably have a good idea of exactly what that means. Other numbers are difficult or impossible to get an intuitive feel for. You’ve never seen 30 trillionths of a picogram before. You’ve never driven two and a half million light years. You’ve never spent $7 trillion. Continue reading

Communicating Science – Part 2

Science is able to answer questions about current issues that are important to the general public, but much of the public discourse is being dominated by sources who are either ignorant or who are intentionally misleading the public for their own purposes. The science being done isn’t trickling down to the general public, and much of the reason why has to do with the way the internet has changed the nature of journalism. Continue reading

Communicating Science – Part 1

The world is an enormously complicated and interconnected place. As we all searching for ways to know and understand it, there are lots of people who have answers for us: politicians, religious leaders, industry lobbyists, marketers, con men, cult leaders, and of course, scientists. Carl Safina wisely warns: if scientists don’t make their answers accessible to the public, someone else will. Continue reading

How To Disagree with an Expert

Appealing to an authority only carries weight to someone who doesn’t understand the reasoning behind the authority’s belief. If you know and understand the authority’s reasoning, then only that reasoning counts, and their authority no longer carries any weight of its own. Knowing and understanding someone’s argument undermines their authority. Continue reading