Urban Myth 1: Psychics 0

At the start of the year it is always interesting to see to sort of crappy predictions psychics make for the forthcoming year.  In some cases they predictions are so nebulous it’s a joke, in others there’s a bit of post-hoc editing. Whilst at the end of the year they trot out any vague hits and promptly forget the misses.

On the other hand there is an new urban myth with regards to the movie “I am Legend” which is lining up to be a sure fire hit. (Both the movie and the myth) There is a screen shot of a newscast near the start of the movie with a ticker showing the result from a Giants and Patriots game. It’s a bit complicated for those that don’t follow gridiron but when the movie first showed, let alone when it was put together, the prediction was very unlikely and regardless of scores and ability can only occur once every 4 years.  It has the Giants loosing to the Patriots for a second time and this can only occur if both teams make it through to the Superbowl. (Grand Final for us in Australia) This unlikely event has actually occurred which will lead to the 2 games and it is quite likely that the Patriots will win leading to a very cool prediction that comes true.

Now onto the similarity. How many times are there TV news reports, headlines, etc. in the back shots of movies that don’t come true? I imagine quite a lot and none of these are remembered and trotted out as famous misses. However this will be at least interesting as the ticker had the final score, a degree of “prediction” that psychics are loath to attempt. To be a correct the final score will need to be Patriots 23, Giants 7. The most likely way of obtaining this score is for 3 touchdowns by the Patriots and a safety to only one touchdown by the Giants. The other option is for the Patriots to miss a conversion and kick a fieldgoal but without knowing this years statistics it’s hard to know how likely this is.

We’ll know whether this prediction comes true on the 3rd February.

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Japanese whale killing is not science

I heard with interest last month on the ABC Science Show the results of an investigation into the amount of real science the Japanese are performing in their so called ‘scientific’ whale research program. In summary the Japanese position is untenable and basically bullshit.

The story can be found here.

From the transcript:

Pat Quilty: And that’s our pile. Of the original 55 we’re down to 14 that could be relevant.

Jonica Newby: Finally, our panel will separate out the papers that could only be produced by lethal research. Because, let’s face it, the real source of contention is how many whales were killed for this information-6,800. As the sun slips over the yardarm, our panel are nearly ready to deliver a verdict.

Mike Archer: That’s one.

Nick Gales: That’s one another two papers there.

Pat Quilty: And number four.

Mike Archer: All right, that’s it. And from that whole pile of papers we’ve got a total of one, two, three, four papers that can be said to be peer reviewed, that have some relevance to developing or managing a whaling industry and that also would require lethal sampling of whales to get this information. Just four papers.

Nick Gales: So with the 18-year program and 6,800 whales killed, on that basis that means 1,700 whales killed for each one of those four papers.

Mike Archer: That’s extremely depressing.

Nick Gales: It wouldn’t pass an ethics committee.

And that’s the rub, it simply isn’t science. So every time they spurt this crap people get to associate the word “science” with a pack of lies. And with the current wind back to the dark ages of scientific illiteracy the last thing we need is science to loose any more reputation.  Of course it would be nice to see the Japanese have some sort of moral backbone and simply admit it’s a commercial whaling program and not try to hide behind science but then they would have to face the fact what they are doing is both illegal and morally repugnant because they are wilfully ignoring the state of whale population.

I’d like to point out here I’m not particularly enamoured with whales, or dolphins for that matter, whales are down right ugly and dolphins just stupid. However it would appear the average dolphin has more smarts than the Japanese who think that hiding unethical behaviour under the cloak of science is acceptable. It simply is not honourable and the Japanese companies involved in this practice are also removing honour from science.


The Edge Annual Question

The Edge annually asks a whole pile of very interesting and clever people an interesting question for them to answer. Here’s the link to this year where the question was “What have you changed your mind about? Why?“.

It is well worth the visit and nicely shows the difference in methods between science and religious dogma.