Apathy 1 : Environment 0

From the BBC we have that UK’s first Energy Saving Day has been a total flop. The basic aim was to encourage people to switch off devices they did not need and they were expecting to see the power usage go down by 2 or 3%. On the day it went up by 0.1%. IMHO this is purely noise.
Evidently the day had very little publicity even though it had backing from the power companies and Greenpeace.
This reinforces what I have thought all along, there is no way people will lower their standard of living unless you put a gun to their head. Not using all the mod cons of a high energy use society is so far off the radar of reality it isn’t funny. And the irony is that based on reasonable predictions of power available around the world and what would be sustainable it would appear that is what we need to do.
In Australia I have seen figures bandied around that our energy requirement for very long sustainability is down around the 10% of what it is today. Even if that figure is highly exaggerated and the real figure is say 50% this sort of test in the UK shows the social limitations of this sort of thinking. It’s logical, rational and makes good economic sense to cut down power consumption but the simple reality is people don’t want to do it. Our power usage per capita in Australia is about 10 or 20 times that of countries like Indonesia or China and this is reflected in our very high (on average) standard of living. The simple fact is people will not cut back on their standard of living and those who currently having low standards of living are going to want, and expect to get, a similar standard of living. That’s just human nature and it will trump rationality and compromise regardless of facts.
Unfortunately I have no magic fix and I can’t see anyone standing in the wings with one either. As long as we operate the current economic model there is simply no good reason to use less power in most persons minds unless energy suddenly costs a truckload more. However this is at odds with the free market and competition trying to offer lower prices to gain more market share. The actual long term cost of power generation is simply not being paid and power is dirt cheap.
All of this is really a perfectly good example of a form of cognitive bias called Platonicity.
The idea comes from the book “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Platonicity: the focus on those pure, well-defined, and easily discernible
objects like triangles, or more social notions like friendship or love, at the
cost of ignoring those objects of seemingly messier and less tractable

Power consumption and standards of living fall into the messier end of the world and I have to say I am yet to see anyone with any clout have a serious go at stating what really needs to be done for a modern civilization to be sustainable over hundreds of years.

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Antisnor ring bullshit?

Yet more BS to pollute the minds?

Seen in a local newspaper is a large add for a silver ring you wear on your little pinkie and it is claimed to stop snoring.  It’s evidence for efficacy are some anecdotes, of the type where more of them does not equal a fact. Of course there is no scientific evidence for it working but hey, why let facts get in the way of a miracle cure? The best “evidence” is a TV show called “Deal or Dud” in the US where 3 couples tested the ring, with the expected great results.

Here’s the link for how it is claimed to work. That’s right, “Chinese medicine”, acupuncture pressure points and the flow of magical unmeasurable “energy”. All of which have a long history, many thousands of years, of being BS.
Of course any proper test would involving a blind test, say with the lumps ground off and the ring covered in tape so the subject hopefully doesn’t know.  And there would be a lot more than 3 people, the ways of quantifying the amount of snoring would be independently verified etc. etc. However don’t hold you breath waiting for this sort of testing, like most health quackery, I’ll predict they will shy away from serious tests.

It would be wise for them to invest some of their not so hard earned profits into brushing up on section 52 and 53 of the Trade Practices Act.

For those of us not pushing such scams it’s good to know that the ACCC has quite a website these days.  It’s called scamwatch and can be found at: http://www.scamwatch.gov.au/content/index.phtml/tag/scamwatch/

On this site is also an online form for filling out complaints which conveniently includes a section for “Health & medical (including weight-loss, miracle cures)”

The “Law of small numbers” Bias

Last week I was giving a talk on decision making and biases and we had some robust debate on the bias called the “Law of small numbers”. Below is the slide from the talk.

Law of small numbers slide
Some confusion existed because of ambiguous wording, in particular the first phrase “Mean IQ is 100” was seen to apply to the subsequent sample, calculated post-hoc.

However they appeared to be a few in the room who still didn’t believe the maths, so here it is explained.

To get the actual average IQ of the group we add the total IQ and divide by the number of people, in this case 50.

The first persons IQ is 150 so the running total is now 150. For the next 49 people we don’t know the exact score so the best we can do is assume they represent the average person, i.e. someone with an IQ of 100. The total IQ of the group of 50 is now 150 + 49 x 100 = 5050

We divide this by 50 to get an answer of 101.

So the improved wording would be “The mean IQ of all people is 100. From this group we select 50 people and the first person selected has an IQ of 150”

This example is showing that people will generally expect a run of lower than 100 IQ’s for the remaining 49 people to “balance” the average so it becomes 100. Of course this does not occur, on average.

The same thinking is also behind the gamblers fallacy where someone will see a run of, for example, black numbers on roulette and then expect a run of red numbers to balance the average.