Setting the world to rights - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Setting the world to rights
Friday, 04 March 2005 at 10:16 am
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Firstly, let me point everybody to this post of leora's about the so-called archiving service that is floating about on the meme-waves right now. Just in case it isn't completely obvious to everyone how much of a Bad Fucking Idea this is, leora spells it out very clearly.

If you want to make a local backup of your own entries, which is more of a good idea, LJArchive is very good in lots of ways. Highly usable, open source and generally yummy. However, it's Windows based. If you use a sensible operating system I'm less able to help you, but if you use a sensible OS and understand Perl, you may find this stuff helpful. Or you may not, but I think that's where to start looking.
Addendum 4.3.05: Apparently, it is not in fact as obvious as I thought why this archiving service is evil. Let me spell this out in so many words: giving your password to a site you know nothing about is stupid. Even if you're prepared to take that risk for yourself, letting them use that password to read and make public copies of other people's Friends Only entries is not acceptable IMO. Even if you disagree with me, please do not "archive" my Friends Only entries offsite. I have no way of enforcing this, but I would be very, very pissed off I found someone was breaching my privacy like that.

Anyway, having got that out of the way. My last post was a bit of a rant about scientific illiteracy compounded by mystification of fairly basic science. In the comments, it kind of degenerated into a general bitchfest about the state of education. So to follow that up, my challenge for the day is this:

Can you name one thing that everybody should know but few people actually do? Because I'm feeling mean this morning, I'm restricting you to one thing. And it has to be described in 100 words or less, mainly because I'm trying to exclude cheating definitions of 'one thing' that are actually several distinct things.

Proposals for how ignorance of your chosen topic might be combatted are welcome, and can be as long as you like. Vague proposals such as 'make primary school education work properly' will be frowned upon, however. I may give prizes for the best suggestions.


Moooood: blahblah
Tuuuuune: Stravinksy: The Firebird
Discussion: 54 contributions | Contribute something
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From:neonchameleon
Date:March 4th, 2005 11:34 am (UTC)
30 minutes after journal entry
(Link)
Fact: Money is intrinsically worthless, with its value being enforced by collective belief. (Even the "Gold Standard" or the like doesn't help much...)

Reasons: Firstly, if people realise that money is just a consentual myth, they will probably worry less about it and be less greedy. Secondly, it should get people to care more about social justice as there is little inherent reason for catastrophic injustices if the differences are ultimately consentual mythology. Thirdly, it is highly subversve to teach people this and should show them both the power of collective belief and get them to question what else fits into this category.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:March 4th, 2005 11:10 pm (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 11:10 pm (livredor's time)

Money is a consensual myth

(Link)
Mm, I like this one. When I was learning about the Depression I remember a bunch of us got together and petitioned the history teacher to explain money to us, because none of us could understand how it all worked. There are still things I don't completely grasp about money, and money has rather a lot of influence on my life. But just this basic fact seems to me both powerful and teachable. Thankyou.
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chickenfeet2003: default
From:chickenfeet2003
Date:March 4th, 2005 11:57 am (UTC)
53 minutes after journal entry, 06:57 am (chickenfeet2003's time)
(Link)
I think everyone should understand enough probability and statistics that they are not misled by spurious presentations of data. It would be nice too if we could avoid newspaper headlines such as "50% of students score below avesage in province wide tests - parents demand minister resign".
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: p53
From:livredor
Date:March 4th, 2005 11:26 pm (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 11:26 pm (livredor's time)

Probability and statistics

(Link)
A grasp of fundamental concepts in statistics feels like part of basic literacy to me, and exactly for the reason you cite, that it's a survival skill.

Do you have any implementation suggestions? Myself, I think Darrell Huff might be a good start, but he probably needs a bit of updating.
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Re: Probability and statistics - chickenfeet2003 (3/4/05 11:31 pm)
rho: default
From:rho
Date:March 4th, 2005 12:36 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 12:36 pm (rho's time)
(Link)
Yes, you truly are mean for limitting us to only one thing.

Probably not the most important or valuable thing that I could think up, but I really, really wish that more people had a moderate grasp of how to do menta; arithmetic. I'm not talking division of 7 digits numbers to give an answer to seven significant figures or anything, here. I'm talking "how to add eight to ninety-five without reaching for a calculator". Really basic things, and how to do quick ballpark approximations for slightly more complicated stuff would be helpful.

I think that the best way to combat that problem is to stop people from using calculators so early. I know that I wasn't allowed a calculator at all until I was in second year of high school (age 12), whereas kids these days seem to be starting using them a whole lot earlier.

It would also be nifty if some time and effort was taken on teaching mental arithmetic to slightly older children. The assumption generally seems to be that you teach kids how to do basic arithmetic when they're young, and as soon as they can do that, you give them a calculator so they don't need to do it any more. Which isn't at all effective, partly because you need lots of practice -- preferably while in the process of working out something else -- to really get the hang of it, and partly because some of the tricks and techniques may be a little tricky for younger kids to properly get their heads around.
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ixwin: default
From:ixwin
Date:March 4th, 2005 01:00 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 01:00 pm (ixwin's time)
(Link)
I'm not convinced that mental arithmetic really is that useful. (Though my opinion may be influenced by the fact that, despite being mathematically literate, I've never been terribly good at it)
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
(no subject) - rho (3/4/05 01:13 pm)
(no subject) - ixwin (3/4/05 01:30 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/5/05 10:41 am)
(no subject) - neonchameleon (3/5/05 11:52 am)
(no subject) - livredor (3/5/05 10:54 am)
Mental arithmetic - livredor (3/4/05 11:37 pm)
Re: Mental arithmetic - beckyzoole (3/13/05 06:00 am)
gnimmel: default
From:gnimmel
Date:March 4th, 2005 01:10 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 01:10 pm (gnimmel's time)
(Link)
That all the other people are real, valid human beings too. I mean, it's something that everyone knows in a conceptual way, but it tends to get rounded down to 'people I know who aren't asylum seekers, don't have a criminal record, don't look threatening and are roughly in my income bracket' all too often.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 10:59 am (UTC)
23 hours after journal entry, 10:59 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
That all the other people are real, valid human beings too.
I love this one. I really love this one, I think if I could magically change one thing about the world this would be it. However, short of magic, do you have any implementation suggestions?
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
(no subject) - gnimmel (3/6/05 10:43 pm)
(no subject) - pseudomonas (3/7/05 09:50 am)
(no subject) - chickenfeet2003 (3/12/05 02:16 pm)
(no subject) - monanotlisa (3/12/05 01:10 pm)
From:ex_robhu
Date:March 4th, 2005 02:33 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry
(Link)
If people had those basic science skills then the MMR furore would never have happened for instance.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 11:17 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:17 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
I see a list of four bullet points. I have trouble defining that as one thing!

"The skills to think critically" is a very broad concept; I am afraid I shall have to disqualify that suggestion unless you can give me a reasonable description in under 100 words. I think the sample sizes and reliability part may well be a subset of that, actually.

"An understanding of basic risk" seems more reasonable, but could still do with an implementation suggestion.

As for the peer review system, I'm unconvinced that that's really entirely necessary. I mean, drumming into people's heads that "peer-reviewed science" is probably more reliable than "what some bloke said on TV" might do something. But basically the peer review system is a very baroque setup which is designed for a specific purpose and I can't honestly see that it has much relevance to the everyday lives of anyone outside academia.
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beckyzoole: default
From:beckyzoole
Date:March 4th, 2005 05:49 pm (UTC)
6 hours after journal entry, 11:49 am (beckyzoole's time)
(Link)
Sensible risk analysis, which is a subset of probability and statistics. People get incredibly worried about things that have very little likelihood of ever happening to them, and yet inexplicably ignore very probable dangers.

(Actually, probability was my immediate response, but someone else got there first!)
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 11:23 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:23 am (livredor's time)

sensible risk analysis

(Link)
Yup, like that one a lot. Because assessing risk is something that all people have to do quite frequently in their lives, and that people are rather genetically programmed to get wrong. I think that those unhelpful instincts can be overridden if you're taught to think in the right way, though.

Implementation suggestions?
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Re: sensible risk analysis - redbird (3/12/05 03:06 pm)
(no subject) - tammy (3/4/05 06:19 pm)
livredor: bunneh
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 11:37 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:37 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
You've been archived, my dear. : /
Thanks for the warning. To tell the truth, I couldn't be less bothered; they've very obviously gone round prominent Support people looking for posts which are critical of Frienditto and put them up with really stupid comments.

I couldn't care less what people do with my public posts, and actually quite appreciate the linkage if it brings more readers here. I've just updated my userinfo in the light of this issue and said as much.

To be honest this is a particularly stupid form of trolling. They seem to think we're going to be OMGZ teh INTIMIDATED if they make copies of public posts that are critical of their site. But I suspect they may be shooting themselves in the foot; if people go to investigate the site and the first thing they see is a series of posts saying why the site is crap, they may well be put off.

My concern is not that people may be "archiving" my public posts; in my opinion, if they're public anyway, it would be far more sensible just to provide a link to them. Or post them to del.icio.us which is designed for this kind of thing. There are probably copies of my public stuff in Google's cache and other sites that work with Google and / or feed data, and I'm not only not worried about this, I'm happy that it should be the case.

What worries me is that someone on my friends list might provide their LJ password to the site, potentially allowing people I really don't trust to read my FO posts. (Or that someone might directly make a public copy of something that I wanted restricted.) I would like to say I trust my friends list, but to be honest there are a lot of people on my friends list I know nothing about except that they write interestingly. In general, when I write anything seriously sensitive I lock it to a specific group of people I do trust, though. And I am aware that nothing published on the internet is wholly secure blah blah blah.
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rysmiel: default
From:rysmiel
Date:March 4th, 2005 07:29 pm (UTC)
8 hours after journal entry, 03:29 pm (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
Gahh, only one thing ? At least when misia did this we got to pick five... I'm vacillating between reasonable understanding of evolutionary principles and how universally they apply, how to give a good backrub, and "Don't lie on my hair, damn it !"
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 11:58 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:58 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
Gahh, only one thing ?
Yes, only one thing. And don't think that you can exploit the fact that I'm inordinately fond of you to get away with cheating.

At least when misia did this we got to pick five...
My game is intentionally slightly different from misia's, though. I want a few suggestions with detail, not hundreds that are basically just headings.

reasonable understanding of evolutionary principles and how universally they apply
Pointless, (other than that it would possibly provide people with mild ammunition against the nastier bits of the Bush regime). Even professional biologists mostly don't need to understand evolution, because most of what they're doing is describing how biological systems are, not how they got to be that way. For ordinary people going about their business they can just as well believe that the whole of history was created intact at midnight last night; it makes absolutely no practical difference.

This suggestion would take a lot of convincing for me to accept it even if you didn't already have two others when I specified only one. So, no.

how to give a good backrub
OK, I could go with that. Even though I have slight hangups about backrubs myself I think I would like to live in a world where most people knew how to give them. It would make a pleasant and non-sexual way to connect with people, and backrubs are generally good for people, so this has potential.

Don't lie on my hair, damn it !
Not sure about this. Even if you generalize it to 'don't lie on anyone's hair, it's still a bit dubious. It strikes me as fairly tricky to teach, because it requires a person to be very aware of their own body in situations such as sex and sleeping when it's fairly difficult to be controlled. Admittedly, that I personally find physical things harder to learn than intellectual things doesn't mean that they are intrinsically less worth teaching. It does occur to me that a much simpler solution is for you (or anyone, if we extend this to a general principle) to tie your hair back when it's in danger of people lying on it.
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(no subject) - rysmiel (3/7/05 07:37 pm)
quizcustodet: default
From:quizcustodet
Date:March 4th, 2005 08:25 pm (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry, 08:25 pm (quizcustodet's time)
(Link)
Conservation of energy and momentum. Many and many of the junk science e-mails would be laughed out of existence if people just understood that you get nothing gratis.

How to fix it? I recommend lots of experiments with air tracks. And maybe for more advanced students, air hockey.
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livredor: p53
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 12:03 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:03 pm (livredor's time)

Conservation of energy and momentum.

(Link)
I like this one, particularly the instant ability to spot junk science that goes along with it. And I like your implementation suggestion, that sounds highly practical. Have a gold star.
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draconid: default
From:draconid
Date:March 4th, 2005 08:54 pm (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry, 08:54 pm (draconid's time)
(Link)
I'm not going to suggest anything. I just thought this was a perfect opportunity to mention the conversation Rat had at his work earlier in the week. His boss was horrified when a colleague didn't know what Camelot was (thinking it was one of the knights of the round table). While I'm quite surprised someone might not know this I realise that different people are interested in different things. Rat's boss went on for days about this supposedly "general knowledge" piece of information.

Anyway, I guess in answer to your question, I can't actually think of anything...
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 12:07 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:07 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
His boss was horrified when a colleague didn't know what Camelot was
To me, that's just general knowledge. General knowledge is by definition not practically useful, so I don't really care whether people possess this knowledge or not. I mean, yes, to a small extent it does help you to fit into your culture, but there's no individual fact of GK that everyone should know.

Also, using GK as a measure of education (whether formally or informally) is pernicious. So I agree with your reaction to Rat's boss. I don't think he was behaving proportionately here.
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itsaslashything: being snippy and bitchy by itsaslashythi
From:itsaslashything
Date:March 5th, 2005 12:29 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, March 4th, 2005 07:29 pm (itsaslashything's time)
(Link)
Seeing this message to explain them being down seems like grounds enough to stay far far far away. Not only does it appear that livejournal has had issues with them, they can't even spell the most simple of words!
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 12:10 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:10 pm (livredor's time)

Frienditto controversy

(Link)
Hi, I think you may be a little confused here. You presumably saw this post because someone thought it was clever to "archive" it on Frienditto, but I can assure you it has nothing to do with the site being down. Personally, I think that disrespect for people's privacy is rather a worse crime than poor spelling, but the more people who are avoiding that nasty site for whatever reason, the better as far as I'm concerned.
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Re: Frienditto controversy - itsaslashything (3/5/05 05:18 pm)
Re: Frienditto controversy - livredor (3/5/05 05:52 pm)
Re: Frienditto controversy - itsaslashything (3/5/05 06:23 pm)
Pax? - livredor (3/6/05 12:45 pm)
elusis: default
From:elusis
Date:March 5th, 2005 02:09 am (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry, March 4th, 2005 06:09 pm (elusis's time)
(Link)
Don't forget LJ Book. It even archives comments.

And for my one thing, I'll take "correlation does not imply causality." Because I have to explain it to people over and over and over and over again. And then they still don't get it.

I propose implementing this with a large brick. Every time someone assumes that "A happens along with B" means "A causes B," I will hit them in the head with the brick. Then I'll point out "I could be hitting you with the brick because you keep committing a really stupid logical error. Or I could just be a bastard."
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 12:19 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:19 pm (livredor's time)

correlation does not imply causality

(Link)
Welcome. I think we've bumped into eachother a couple of times before and we have slightly overlapping circles, I believe. Anyway it's good to see you here.

Thanks for the LJBook link. I know there are various archiving services out there; I listed LJArchive because I use it myself and know enough about it to know that I trust it. It does also archive comments; that's why I linked to that and jbackup.pl rather than the out of date FAQ on backing up journal entries.

"Correlation does not imply causality" is a good one, and that knowledge carries a whole lot of other stuff with it. I think that might be more practical than some of the more general suggestions about assessing evidence and understanding data. I also love your brick suggestion! Have a gold star for making me laugh as well as coming up with a very sound idea.

(Nice corset, by the way.)
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
Re: correlation does not imply causality - elusis (3/5/05 06:28 pm)
leora: ouroboros
From:leora
Date:March 5th, 2005 02:30 am (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry, March 4th, 2005 06:30 pm (leora's time)
(Link)
In times of emergency or when someone needs help, most people will freeze up and be unsure what to do, By the time they decide action needs to be taken, most will convince themselves someone else must have acted by now or since no one else is acting, it must be the right thing to do. Know this and be the one who acts and others will usually be eager to help you, if given some basic direction.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:March 5th, 2005 12:30 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:30 pm (livredor's time)

be the one who acts

(Link)
Mm, interesting, I like that one. It's an unusual suggestion, and it's definitely true that it's something that most people don't know. Thank you.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
Re: be the one who acts - leora (3/5/05 12:34 pm)
Re: be the one who acts - livredor (3/5/05 06:55 pm)
Re: be the one who acts - beckyzoole (3/13/05 06:04 am)
Re: be the one who acts - leora (3/13/05 06:07 am)
pseudomonas: default
From:pseudomonas
Date:March 6th, 2005 09:56 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 09:56 pm (pseudomonas's time)
(Link)
f you use a sensible OS and understand Perl
Perl is OK on lots and lots of OSes. Is this particular script very non-portable?
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:March 6th, 2005 10:15 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 10:15 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
OK, I didn't make myself clear. If you are using Windows, you might as well use LJArchive because all the work is done for you, including the pretty interface. If you don't use Windows, you may need to make a bit more effort. There's no particular reason why you can't do things in a Perl way on Windows, but you wouldn't really need to unless you really wanted to be masochistic about it.

The particular script I linked to, I suggest you look at it yourself because you can read Perl and I can't. It was written by the LJ developers as a way for people to archive entries including comments. I think it doesn't really have any front end though, and I'm not sure quite how much work you have to do to go from that script to the ability to archive stuff. LJArchive interfaces with that Perl script in some way; I think the correct term for it is an API.

The point about jbackup.pl is that it allows people to write programs to archive their data without massively hurting the servers. You can, if you're clever, do this kind of thing with it. It might be that you find that LJSM is actually the kind of thing you want, but it's written by some Russians I know nothing about, so I have no idea how trustworthy it is. I put the link up because I was hoping someone cleverer than me would be able to figure out something useful from the little snippets of information I have, which mainly consist of 'here's a good place to look'.
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angharad: default
From:angharad
Date:March 7th, 2005 08:46 am (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 04:46 am (angharad's time)
(Link)
(I surfed here vaguely, via some frienditto wibbling, I believe.)

I would like to submit "Shut that door. You're letting the cold out." for basic grade school science misunderstandings. I'm willing to allow for metaphor, and even for traditional idiomatic phrasing, but I suspect that many people don't bother thinking about the mechanisms, and thus actually believe it.

As backup submissions, for extreme cases, I will add "Mushrooms are not plants", and "Neither rabbits nor bats are rodents."
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