Does TV need to be believable? Or WTF New York Post

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So for my first post back in a while, I thought that I may change pace a little. I read this article regarding the believability of the hit show Homeland, their take is that the show is now hard to take seriously due to the fact that they feel that there are plot errors. I’m not sure that the author, Robert Rorke, is actually aware that this show is fiction. To think that Homeland mirrors reality and that it must make absolute sense is absurdity in it’s finest. I wonder whether Rorke has an issue with plot inconsistencies in other programs such as Breaking Bad (where did Walt get that military weaponry if he was lying low?).

As humans, when watch television we sometimes suspend belief for entertainments sake, the fact that Homeland takes some poetic licence and runs with it is OK by me, it doesn’t effect me in the slightest, but yet apparently it is evidence that he program is crashing and burning. I do wonder whether there is an ulterior motive behind this, as a few weeks ago I remember that there was an article stating that the producers had to apologise for a plot twist. What is happening here, apologising for a plot twist? Are the critics of this show simple minded folk who only live in a concrete thought world? How does a TV show get to the point where there have to be apologies made when the audience doesn’t get it, or are having a hard time keeping up? Isn’t this the point of a twist? If this is the case, I demand an apology from the writers of LOST. Anyone would think that Rorke thought that the show was some kind of instruction manual on how to be a spy. It’s TV people, lighten up.

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Anti-Vax – A beginner’s guide to anti science

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So, vaccines, those evil mercury laden, autism giving, miracles of science that sure haven’t done anything to help population health. Of course, I am being facetious, the Forbes article that I have linked to uses data from the CDC (although even the CDC is discredited in some anti-vax circles). I have been in a Twitter conversation with an anti-vaxer group (follow me @skepticguide) and they have done the run around on what they believe to be the science in relation to their beliefs that vaccines cause harm. I have been sent, most recently, to the website of The Greater Good movie, which to me, is a tad bit bizarre. If vaccines were as unsafe as they say that they are, shouldn’t there be a better reference list of studies, rather than the reference list of a documentary, which was made by anti-vaxers to prove that vaccination is the root of all evil. This, in the field of science, is known as a confirmation bias, that is, that the examiners start out with what they believe to be the outcome, and then they seek out all the information that will fulfil this outcome. Meaning that, surprise, surprise, they come to the conclusion that they set out to make..

The scientific method (explained here at Wikipedia) is exceptionally important in any real scientific endeavour. It is a set of rules that should be met when examining any claim, and should be followed regardless of what we want the outcome to be. Methodology should include things such as blinding, that is, that the examiners and those being examined, should not know what any individual participant has been allocated to. The other condition that is so important is that of repeatability, that is the ability, given the same conditions, that the same results will be found. This removes concerns about any errors that occur during testing, such as problems with populations etc.

Peer review is an important part of the process as well. This is where, before a paper is published, it is sent to reviewers in the same field of expertise for their comment and feedback. However, in my opinion peer review standards can easily be manipulated, especially by specialty journals that have a small pool of reviewers who want the same outcomes.

What the anti-vax papers usually show are results in small, obscure populations and results that can’t be replicated, but rather than accept this for what it is, there is then the issue of the ad-hominem and red herring attacks. What this is, is the use of diversion tactics such as stating that vaccination bodies, governments and others in general are deluded, that they are conspiring to make more money and it goes on ad nauseum.

The arguments tend to follow emotional reasoning to not vaccinate. Ever been blackmailed by crying kid? They know how to do it, they will show you their trauma, right up close, it’s your responsibility to fix it. The same goes for the anti-vax lobby, they use individual case studies to show you how vaccination effects us negatively, when we are talking about a population health issue. The sad reality of population medicine (and indeed any type of medicine) is that sometimes individuals have unexpected reactions to medications and procedures. We could all tell a story of us, or someone that we know, who has been adversely effected by some type of medicine. It sucks, but in the benefits we often have to pay a price and sometimes this is at the expense of life. On the whole, vaccines make the world safer and healthier for everyone.

I am not going into specifics of articles, but more so into the fallacies in research and evidence collection that occurs in the anti-vax circles. Just because you have a scientific paper outlining what you think, doesn’t mean that it is correct, nor does it mean that we stop looking at further evidence.

So after all this, vaccinate your kids. Because kids not dying of preventable disease is a good thing.

It’s cool if you’re a lady, also known as gender portrayals in the media

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So I have sent an email in to the Editor of News.com.au (maybe this blog should be called Skeptic’s Guide to News.com.au), about the representation of a female PE teacher who had sexual relations with a male student:
Can you please look at revising the attached image for the following story on PE teacher/Student relationship. I feel that the picture normalises the issue and makes out that due to her ‘attractiveness’ that the relationship was OK. If we flipped the roles and it was a male doing the exploiting, I am quite sure that this news would not have been reported in this manner. This is a sexual exploitation matter, regardless of whether the teacher is attractive, a person with a degree of trust and a disproportionate amount of social power engaged in a sexual relationship with a person with less power.  

Seriously, what were the journalists, editors and layout people thinking when they chose this photo (a stock shot of a buxom lass with a clipboard)? My main issue is that it sexualises the issue and makes out that there is some kind of normal in an attractive teacher exploiting a young person. This has zero to do with her attractiveness and far more to do with the fact that, under the law, she can be seen as a sexual predator. As mentioned in my email, the teacher, in this arrangement has a disproportionate amount of power over the student and that this means that by the power of social psychology, she is able to get him to act in certain ways, due to the expectations and rules that, whilst unspoken, are very much set by the cultures that we live in.

I did ponder whether this happened with a male teacher, what would happen, would his physical appearance even be brought into the news article, would it matter if he was ‘sexy’ or that the teenage girls pined over him? Or would it only matter that he had engaged in sexual activities with and individual with whom he could exert exceptional social control over? I also wonder what the public reaction would be should a stock photo of a male showing his chest with a clipboard was used in the same manner as it was in this piece.

Again the issue is not the reality of the situation, the reality is that the teacher in question is currently facing Court and that this will be decided in the correct judicial process (hopefully). The issue here is that the media have chosen to use the physical appearance of a female in order to make the article a novelty piece, or even worse, to excuse the actions of the teacher because she is just too darn pretty to resist.

The War on Truth

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Sure, we know that the media has massive power in this day and age, but how do we get around this? The recent Australian elections were rife with accusations that Rupert Murdoch had a massive influence on the outcome of the election, as he pushed his cause through the front pages of the newspapers. There was a candidate, Clive Palmer, who even said that he would sue Murdoch due to the influence that he had and the negative media that was run. Even today there continues to be pieces in the media that tend to say that Palmer is unbalanced or ‘wacky’, and obvious ploy to discredit him. But we don’t have to listen, do we? The answer to that is no, we don’t, but when, on national TV there is numerous news breaks during any program, or even constant tickers, it means that it is very hard to remain skeptical, as the amount of information becomes massive. That is information NOT evidence.

A good case in point is that of the Falling Man, the article that was never meant to be. The pictures were deemed to be too harsh to show even a few years after September 11 occurred, but recently News.com.au released a news article on them, because apparently, pictures become less harsh after around 12 years. Why was this? Is it the fact that seeing someone suicide would indicate that people may have taken their own lives on that day, and that therefore those ones weren’t the fault of the terrorists, and that they were weak people (as noted some who thought that this may be their family member vehemently rejected the idea, due to the idea that anyone jumping from a burning building was ‘weak’). 

On the very next day however, News.com.au released an article on the Syrian crisis, with links to the beheading of a soldier by rebel forces. My feeling on this is that the pictures are being used as a way to prop up sentiment for the need for action in Syria. The pictures would actually go against the case of military action against the government (as it is a government soldier killed), but what it does do is inflame the public’s sense that things are out of control in Syria, that something needs to happen there. Then there are the articles like this, that say that even asking a question will put you in the box with some loonies, and that you are thereby marked ‘stupid’ because you dared to ask a question.

So where do we even find the truth these days, is there anywhere that is reliable? The reality seems that everyone has an opinion, even those that are paid to bring us the news, which means that tend to sell what they think, rather than what they see. Time to end the war on truth.

Is the fact that we now can get news any time we want a positive or a negative, do more dissenting views online mean that we are more skeptical of a media which seems to push it’s own agenda? I certainly hope so.

Why can’t we get along?

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I can’t sleep at the moment, due to my mind mulling over an issue from earlier in the day, that is closely related to this. What’s the problem exactly, you ask, dear reader? The problem is that we have stopped caring about one another, that is if we ever started. Sure, human history is full of individuals and groups being cast out and ostracised, but I have decided that I will take no part in this.

There are a great number of reasons why we engage in behaviours that ostracise others, but the main one is so that we can gain some kind of social power, whether through the denigration of another social group or individual, thus increasing our own power (very simple in-group, out-group social Psychology). Matt Prater in his questioning of the Prime Minister, showed exactly this, a cheap attempt at pushing his ideology against something that he doesn’t agree with so that he can bring more people to his flock and further push his ideology. Why do I say this? Because why else would it be a genuine question of any rational minded human being, has anyone thought to themselves ‘Wow, this gay thing is really taking off, I have fear for the future generations’? This isn’t an article about Prater, but it is about all others who feel that it is their right to stand firm on bigoted views that do nothing but offend and inflame. Too much time and attention is given to people who want to do nothing but force their vitriol down the throats of others. I agree that we live in a society that allows free speech, and that values the opinions of everyone, but aren’t extreme opinions that have been expressed in a free manner an issue which has caused problems in the past and has actually led to more restrictive societies and less free speech?

In view of this I have decided to start a personal venture, that others may follow. I am going to call bigotry out when I see it and then remove these people from my life, no more Facebook friends, no more following people on Twitter, and hopefully if this catches on and we don’t suffer fools and bigots, then one day we will have a world where freedom of speech will be about issues that matter, not about fear and hate.

Homosexuality, Secularity and the Church

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The Australian PM, in campaigning for the national election, appeared on the Q and A program last night. He answered a question regarding why as a ‘good Christian’ he supports homosexuality by a Pastor at a New Age church. He has been applauded by the media for the way in which he answered and his commitment to gay rights. But to me this isn’t the issue at all, the issue is that a Pastor, at a large Church, can appear on a national TV show and ask such a bigoted and ridiculous question without having his own beliefs questioned. Now I am sure that Rudd, and others (me included) will be decried for ‘taking the Bible out of context’ when other things that the Bible says are cool to do (such as Rudd’s point on slavery). It seems to me that this very weak argument can be used by Christians, but not by humanists, or atheists. Could it be possible that (some) Christians are taking the Bible out of context when they say that the act of homosexuality is a sin?

I also wonder what would happen if another person got up and made a bigoted statement about women in the workforce, Aboriginal Australians literacy and unemployment rates, or the influx of immigrants, how that would have been seen? Guaranteed something like this would have got no air time, it would have been a ‘sit down sir, you are being a dick’ moment, and why don’t we treat the lack of acceptance of homosexuality as the same?  I don’t care what your old book there says about being gay being a good person is not about blindly following, but about questioning issues from a modern day standpoint, rather than from the views of book written in a different age. Much like slavery isn’t cool anymore and a lot of people work the Sabbath due to conflicting pressures, and we can wear clothes of mixed fibres, because the world has changed since the book was written and people and cultures have too.

Maybe Rudd, and all others who claim themselves to be Christian, should stop being a ‘good Christian’ and start being a good person, there seems to be more room to move there at least.

 

 

Thank God for this blog post

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The World’s Fittest Man has been announced through the unique labours of Crossfit. I am not quite sure how a single commercial venture can actually claim to test the World’s Fittest, but who am I to argue, I couldn’t do a single one of their crazy exercises. Now Mr Froning may not be the best target for my ire, but my issue is that of passing of individual achievement and success as a measure of God’s love. (I would also argue that Rich breaches the Galatians 6:14 verse that he ascribes to, isn’t it boastful to even enter a competition called the World’s Fittest?). The report says that he credits God for what he has achieved, does this mean that God loves the Second World’s fittest just a little bit less, or is the way that Rich words his prayers a little more direct, or eloquent?

I watched a tennis match a few years ago and watched the favourite miss the Match Point 7 times, and then made the sign of the cross, and finally won the match. Was God just messing with him? Did God love the other dude more than him, but the sign of the cross got him over the line? By this logic, what we should see is that nations who have a higher percentage of Christianity should therefore win the matches or games that they are in, shouldn’t they? Someone should really tell this to the Chinese in the Olympic medal tally.

Regardless of medal tallies and matches won, I find it exceptionally disconcerting that religion is not only used to explain the big events in life, but also the small. People are ‘blessed’ to have healthy children, they ‘Thank God’ that they have a job. If there was a God, why would he care for you and you alone. This, to me, is the height of Christian arrogance, to believe that you have been given priority seating in the game of life simply because of your faith. Adults can go ahead and believe this, that is their right to choose this belief system, but I want to ask, what is it that we are teaching children when we thank God for achievements? To me it denies personal responsibility and control, it assumes that we are at the whim of an entity we can never see or experience. As a result children lose sight of what is their responsibility and what is not their responsibility, they think that when good things happen it is because of God, but when bad things happen is because their belief wasn’t strong enough, or that they were being tested (rather than good old fashion shit luck, or chance and probability).

So what ever happened to a bit of hard work that you can claim as your own. God didn’t get you out of bed to train this morning, to sacrifice relationships for your sport, to injure and heal, you did that. Take some responsibility, you are fucking awesome.

Video

Cold Reading Fail

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James Van Praagh fails miserably at cold reading when a few audience members decided that they just aren’t buying it. Presenter has to awkwardly shut the segment down, comedy gold..

It’s funny, I once saw an interview where James Randi was criticising a reading by Van Praagh and his contemporary, John Edwards. Both Edwards and Van Praagh denied ever making money from their ventures and it was more about doing it for the love and building the collective consciousness. I dare say that the price that people pay for tickets to their shows covers just the expenses?

Celebrity and Addiction – What’s the difference?

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The (I was going to start with the cliche ‘tragic’ but isn’t every death tragic?) death of Corey Monteith last week started another slew of articles on an individual’s ‘Spiral into addiction’ and their ‘Mental health struggle.’ Although not a major follower of celebrity news, I found it ironic that the reporting of his death was the first that I had heard of his troubles with addiction. Why ironic? Because of the simple fact that in a celebrity obsessed culture we see everything that celebrities do, who they marry, where they eat, what shops they shop in, but it seems that, unless there is a carefully worded press release, it is a very rare occurrence to see a mainstream actor come out and talk about their mental health or struggles with alcohol or substances. There is something in this that lacks marketability for studios, that would go against the interests of the actor in the future, so it is swept to the side. Who knew that Heath Ledger was going through such a hard time (reports after his death indicate that many other celebrities knew of his struggle). My point in asking these questions is, if we know (and will pay for gossip magazines) everything about a celebrities life, then surely can’t we deal with the fact that they may have their own failings, that they might have things that they struggle with in their everyday lives. Because their work is seen on screen does this make them any less human than the person whose work is only seen by their supervisor in their office?

When is a Narcissist not a Narcissist

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I read an article on News.com.au about Narcissistic personality disorder and the ‘experiences’ of one sufferer. I think that the irony of printing a story that a narcissist has written about themselves seems to be lost on the publishers, I can just see this person sitting down and, if they do really have NPD, thinking ‘Hmmm, I know what would make me feel better today…writing about me.’ After reading this article, I am even more convinced that mainstream media is a machine made primarily for gossip-mongering, rather than for the valid release of actual news and events (although even when real news is reported that prevalence of certain events ie plane crashes, shark attacks, rare diseases, are always greatly overstated). I see colleagues chatting in tearooms whispering to one another “You know what, I reckon he’s a narcissist” simply because it is the new vogue in mental illness (remember when it was Adult ADD, ADHD, Autism, BiPolar….and the list goes on).

 

One of the main issues that I see with this is the concept of the Cosmopolitan (the magazine, not the drink) approach to diagnosis. Often news agencies will use so-called experts on health to stand head and shoulders above the rest and ‘out’ a certain disorder, whether it is the secret life of your bowel, food intolerances, allergies, or in this case, mental disorders. This is what has happened here, News.com.au have grabbed a story that they feel is interesting to their demographic (in this case a follow up story on the Saatchi/Nigella Lawson issue), and they have run with it, with no more research or forethought. It is reminiscent of the guy who tells you all about world affairs, but has very little real knowledge, just the surface stuff that he read in the newspaper once (oh wait, this is starting to form a cycle…).

 

I note also that the writer has stated that the medical fraternity ‘now’ have a name for what he is suffering from. The concept of NPD has been around for a very long time, and has been described by many psychiatric and psychological authors, it is not a new concept. The picture (of Don Draper) which accompanies the article really outlines the fact that News.com is merely pandering to what they feel is an apt audience, rather than to any real concern. It’s like they have asked ‘What’s in?’ and found that Mad Men is big and decided to simply run a story on it, that’s not news, that’s mediocre popularity pandering. And there has never been a sex addiction, or sociopath story released with a Sex and the City or Dexter picture, I bet, but I digress.

 

The real issue here is not that News.com.au are making attempts to provide bite sized chunks of information for their audience and to ensure that the information is released for the greater good. The issue is that journalists who have no other qualifications feel that it is their right and duty to ‘expose’ something which they do not understand. Therefore, we have old Mr. Anonymous writing in and telling his life story, and now associating with the moniker of Narcissistic Personality disorder, I wonder how many other things in his life he will now explain away with that diagnosis, how many things he will blame for it and how many other people (as can be seen in the comments section) will now have a faux-‘aha’ moment and believe that they have figured out something about themselves, or someone that they know, and then they adjust their behaviour around that person to what they feel is appropriate (having no more knowledge of the disorder than what was written on a website).

The real figures are relatively small for NPD 0.5-1% of the population will exhibit symptoms which warrant a diagnosis, that is, that, at the most, 1 in 100 people suffer from this personality disorder, which all being said is relatively tiny.

 

Again, like previous posts, this is an example of how humans can be so easily duped into believing something given limited information. Humans rely on seeking comfort (in many forms) and often doing that in the easiest ways possible. The article described gives a very easy manner in which to

‘explain away’ symptoms and problems in a persons life, rather than having to face them and deal with them. If you feel hurt from a previous relationship (whether it be social, intimate or work), maybe look at your part in the problem, rather than attempting to diagnose a problem you know nothing about, because the person whom you diagnose won’t get any help from your diagnosis, but by understanding your part, you will definitely gain a deeper understanding of yourself.