The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'debunking'


While it may seem that we live in an age of unprecedented violence and atrocity, according to Steven Pinker, violence has been steadily declining over the past few centuries, and we are now living at the most peaceful time in the history of humanity so far.

The decline of violence, he tells us, is a fractal phenomenon - we see it over the centuries, the decades and the years. That said, we see a tipping point in the 16th century - the age of reason - particularly in England and Holland.
One on one death has plummeted through the middle ages, with an "elbow" of the curve in the 16th century. Despite a slight uptick in the 1960s - "perhaps those who thought that rock and roll would lead to a decline in moral values had it right" we've seen two orders of magnitude fall in one on one violence from the middle ages to today. State sponsored violence has also fallen sharply - we've seen a 90% reduction in genocide since the end of the cold war. State on state conflicts are dropping every decade.
Pinker then calls bullshit on the Rousseauvian "noble savage" myth that, in some state of long-lost primordial innocence, our distant ancestors lived in blessed harmony with one another, and that ills such as warfare and violence are the result of the noxious effects of language/capitalism/agriculture/urbanisation.
Until 10,000 years ago, all humans were hunter gatherers. This is the group that some believe lived in primordial harmony - there's no evidence of this. Studying current hunter-gatherer tribes, the percent of male adults who die in violence is extraordinary - from 20 to 60% of all males. Even during the violent 20th century, with two world wars, less than 2% of males worldwide died in warfare.
The Middle Ages were filled with mutilation and torture as routine punishments for trangressions we'd punish with fines today. This was merely another charming feature of a time that featured pastimes like "cat burning", dropping cats into a fire for entertainment purposes. Some of the most creative inventions of the Middle Ages were fantastically cruel forms of corporal punishment.
Pinker offers several reasons for the illusion that violence is increasing and the past was more idyllic: improved communications (we have more awareness of acts of violence, petty and enormous, than people had in earlier centuries), the cognitive illusion that makes memorable events (which include acts of spectacular brutality) seem more common, and the fact that popular standards of what's acceptable are changing faster than behaviour actually is. He also offers four explanations for why violence is becoming less common: the Hobbesian hypothesis (that states with monopolies on violence reduce it), a decline in the belief that life is cheap, the rise of more non-zero-sum games such as international trade, which make potential rivals more valuable alive than dead, and the hypothesis of the "expanding circle":
By default, we empathize with a small group of people, our friends and family. Everyone else is subhuman. But over time, we've seen this circle expand, from village to clan to tribe to nation to other races, both sexes and eventually other species. As we learn to expand our circles wider and wider, perhaps violence becomes increasingly unacceptable.

(via worldchanging) civilisation culture debunking human nature progress psychology violence 1


Hacker and painter Maciej Ceglowski calls bullshit on Paul Graham's Hackers and Painters, claiming that the two occupations have no more in common than hackers and, say, pastry chefs, and that Graham's essay is basically an attempt to appropriate a sexier and more romantic image by hand-waving and sophistry:

Great paintings, for example, get you laid in a way that great computer programs never do. Even not-so-great paintings - in fact, any slapdash attempt at splashing paint onto a surface - will get you laid more than writing software, especially if you have the slightest hint of being a tortured, brooding soul about you. For evidence of this I would point to my college classmate Henning, who was a Swedish double art/theatre major and on most days could barely walk.
Also remark that in painting, many of the women whose pants you are trying to get into aren't even wearing pants to begin with. Your job as a painter consists of staring at naked women, for as long as you wish, and this day in and day out through the course of a many-decades-long career. Not even rock musicians have been as successful in reducing the process to its fundamental, exhilirating essence.
It's no surprise, then, that a computer programmer would want to bask in some of the peripheral coolness that comes with painting, especially when he has an axe to grind about his own work being 'mere engineering'.

Ceglowski puts the blame for Hackers and Painters, and the whole genre on the obvious suspects:

I blame Eric Raymond and to a lesser extent Dave Winer for bringing this kind of schlock writing onto the Internet. Raymond is the original perpetrator of the "what is a hacker?" essay, in which you quickly begin to understand that a hacker is someone who resembles Eric Raymond. Dave Winer has recently and mercifully moved his essays off to audio, but you can still hear him snorfling cashew nuts and talking at length about what it means to be a blogger[7] . These essays and this writing style are tempting to people outside the subculture at hand because of their engaging personal tone and idiosyncratic, insider's view. But after a while, you begin to notice that all the essays are an elaborate set of mirrors set up to reflect different facets of the author, in a big distributed act of participatory narcissism.

Disclaimer: I'm currently halfway through Hackers and Painters; so far, I've found it interesting in a big-ideas sort of way. Though I am as yet undecided on whether the emperor is actually clothed, and whether Graham is a visionary master, a self-important blowhard or a bit of both. (One could perhaps count it in Graham's defense that Ceglowski admits to being a Perl programmer, but I digress.)

(via ronebofh) debunking eric s. raymond hackers and painters maciej ceglowski narcissism paul graham sex status 4


You've probably read about the scientific studies proving that praying or being prayed for is beneficial to one's health. According to skeptic Michael Shermer, these studies are deeply flawed, suffering from faults such as failure to eliminate other factors (such as socioeconomic status, lifestyle differences, and people in poor health being less likely to attend church). There's also the small matter of one of the authors of one study being a fraudster. (via FmH)

debunking fraud health prayer religion secularism 0


Patrick Farley (who writes/draws the excellent Electric Sheep online comics, and has his head screwed on the right way on most things) has some interesting things to say about St. Patrick's Day:

A few facts about St. Patrick:
  • He wasn't Irish, he was Roman.
  • There never were any snakes in Ireland.
  • "Driving the snakes out of Ireland" is a euphemism for leading the slaughter of the indigenous Celtic pagans.
Now, tomorrow I'll be wearing green to celebrate the arrival of spring, and surely I'll raise a pint or two of Guiness in honor of the Emerald Isle. But an Irish person celebrating "St. Patrick's Day" is as absurd as a Mexican celebrating "Cortez Day."

catholic debunking ireland paganism st. patrick 3


The Skeptic's Dictionary, an encyclopædia of fringe beliefs, bizarre ideas and logical fallacies (and a few sensible ideas too). If you were wondering about therapeutic trepanation, the Hollow Earth theory, or identifying vinyl records by sight or that hundredth-monkey phenomenon the true believer in your life keeps citing to show how pitifully limited science is, and thus justify (Creationism/urine therapy/their telepathic poodle's past-life experiences), it's all here, along with the skinny on what's really going on.

debunking fringe hollow earth new age rationalism science skepticism trepanation 0


Emperor/clothes: You've probably heard the hagiographic claims about how the Star Wars films are drawn from that deep well of primal archetypes and myths going back to Homer/the Upanishads/Joseph Campbell. Well, that's rubbish. They're mostly a knockoff of pulp sci-fi ideas, though surprisingly many people don't see that, blinded by the hype or the desire to see Star Wars as one of the Great Stories.

Campbell's approach can give any adventure story, from "Bulldog Drummond" to "The Perils of Pauline," a place in the pantheon. In fact, his acolytes are hard at work doing just that with such movies as "The Matrix" and "The Wizard of Oz." It adds up to little more than a party game for drunken grad students, or a smoke screen for filmmakers covering their tracks.

debunking joseph campbell mythology star wars 1

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