Archive for July, 2011

The Fallacy of the Milgram Experiment

Disclaimer: I’m writing this with only the knowledge I obtained by the Wikipedia article so perhaps I am making an incorrect conclusion from lack of evidence.

I read through the experiment after someone mentioned it as a proof that people follow the orders of an authority figure even if they thought it would cause harm or would lead to them killing someone. I’m calling complete bullshit on that right now. For some reason, the scientists administering the tests seems to have completely ignored the intelligence level of the subjects in the experiment. Specifically, the ability of a person to draw conclusions about safety based on prior experience. You can see a hint of it in the quote under the Ethics section for those that went through with the experiment.

My only hope is that members of my board act equally according to their conscience…

Which then confirmed by what one of the early withdrawers did:

In the journal Jewish Currents, Joseph Dimow, a participant in the 1961 experiment at Yale University, wrote about his early withdrawal as a “teacher,” suspicious “that the whole experiment was designed to see if ordinary Americans would obey immoral orders, as many Germans had done during the Nazi period.”

Both of these accounts suggest that humans that are participating in a scientific experiment would make some of the following assumptions:

  • The scientist is a benevolent dictator. What I mean by this is that the scientific community has a standard of ethics when doing human experiments and should not conduct an experiment that causes irreparable harm to the subjects. Logically, subjects would assume that even if the experiment does something harmful, like administer shocks, that the damage is within reason and acceptable. Why? Because that is what we expect from our authority figures. This is even proven true by the variation which changes the governing body to a less prestigious one:
Experiment 10 took place in a modest office in BridgeportConnecticut, purporting to be the commercial entity “Research Associates of Bridgeport” without apparent connection to Yale University, to eliminate the university’s prestige as a possible factor influencing the participants’ behavior. In those conditions, obedience dropped to 47.5 percent, though the difference was not statistically significant.
  • Fellow participants have agreed to take part in the experiment. This is important as the “teacher” automatically assumes that their counterpart subject, the “learner”, is willfully participating in the experiment. If not, the “learner” would have just left after being told of his role in the experiment. Thus, despite the “heart condition” that is mentioned or all the cries of pain, the “teacher” has no reason to believe that the “learner” feels that this experiment is unsafe for the “learner’s” health.
  • The voltages are safe to administer. As seen by this example:

Milgram himself provides some anecdotal evidence to support this position. In his book, he quotes an exchange between a subject (Mr. Rensaleer) and the experimenter. The subject had just stopped at 255 V, and the experimenter tried to prod him on by saying: “There is no permanent tissue damage.” Mr. Rensaleer answers:

“Yes, but I know what shocks do to you. I’m an electrical engineer, and I have had shocks … and you get real shook up by them — especially if you know the next one is coming. I’m sorry.”

In a 2006 experiment using a computer simulation in place of the learner receiving electrical shocks, the participants administering the shocks were aware that the learner was unreal, but still showed the same results.

  • Any participant that could call bullshit on the scientist did not continue with the experiment. Once they reached a point where they knew actual harm was being done (even if just mental damage), they quit. Luckily for the scientists, they didn’t have 100% educated engineers as part of their subject pool. Otherwise, I guarantee that the results would be the complete opposite of what they got. Furthermore, the followup experiment using a known visual “learner” is just complete bullshit. It doesn’t prove anything as the “teachers” in this case know that they aren’t doing any harm at all. So why the fuck would they stop?

Do I need to continue? The common theme here is that humans will make certain assumptions about safety based on what they’ve learned growing up. Take a pool of applicants that grew up in a safe, law abiding neighborhood and you will see a higher rate of obedience because they will think, “Hey, if everyone participating in this experiment agrees to it and the scientists are (or in their mind, should) good people, then what harm is there in delivering the shocks.” Take a group of well educated engineers that know what happens mentally and physically from administering shocks and obedience will drop. They will call bullshit on the safety claims by the scientists much earlier. Take a group of delinquents from a poor area and you will end up with wildly varying results. They will either do the experiment because they enjoy causing people harm or they will just stop earlier because the don’t trust the authority figures.

The common theme is that people aren’t stupid. That is the primary uncontrollable variable that comes with human psychological experiments. It seems as though scientists performing the Milgram Experiment are eager to reach a compliance conclusion. So much so that they are ignoring the intelligence of the participants. So please people, don’t use this experiment as “proof” that humans will blindly follow authority even if it causes harm to others. That just isn’t true.

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Signs of Bad Times for US Tech

2 1/2 years ago, I predicted that in 4-5 years (so 2013-2014) we’d begin to see a wave of companies and independent developers begin moving away from the US as a place of business because of software patents. Partly because the US has a severely fucked up patent system where glaringly obvious patents are granted (not to mention that the ineptitude of the patent office in anything remotely related to tech since they seem to ignore all prior art in the field). This ties into my theory that by 2015, the US would no longer be the leader in innovation in technology as our lead will be cut down by emerging countries such as China, India, and already strong countries in Europe such as Germany. Additionally, this loss will have the impact of dethroning the US as the leading economic power in the world. Of course, this wouldn’t happen if Obama decides to follow through on his campaign promises (anti-lobby stance and more transparency specifically as these are the main reasons the RIAA, MPAA, etc. are successfully pushing for idiotic things like 6-strikes law, stronger IP laws (PROTECT IP), and shooting down net neutrality), which, as we all know now, did not happen. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my prediction is starting to come true 2 years early:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/appsblog/2011/jul/15/app-developers-withdraw-us-patents

This is just the start so you can probably expect this sort of sentiment to pick up and gain momentum in the coming year unless someone in the government starts doing something to rectify the problem. I’ll take the pessimistic stance and say that the US government is too corrupt to take the necessary measures to stop this trend. Instead, they will apply a band-aid fix that will fall apart after half a year or so once the lawyers find loopholes around it. The estimate for the US downfall (2015) shouldn’t change much since everything else in my overly complicated theory (perhaps I’ll write this up if I ever want to spend a week on a single post) is progressing at the expected pace.

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The Republican Congress is Racist

Bam! Going to post my most controversial opinion ever. I doubt I’ll ever top this one.

The Republican Congress is Racist

Ok so maybe not all of them, but I’d wager that 90% of them are racist. If not racist, then at least they condone racism and allow it to flourish.

You: So why hysan? Why would you say something so controversial?

Me: Because I read this article today by The Economist and had to wonder why the Republicans would be playing Russian Roulette with the lives of every American. Part of it is greed (not wanting to increase taxes to the rich), but a good deal of the sentiment I get from listening to the Republicans just seems malicious. It seems like they want to destroy Obama’s presidency at all costs. Then you think about all of the controversy about the Birth Certificate, religion (Is he Muslim? No he is not you dumbasses.), and all of the hubbub about him being the first black president. It feels like the leaders of the Republican party hate Obama more than any other democratic president because he is different. Politically? No, he’s pretty much the same as most democratic presidents. Background? Hell yes, he is different. He is the first black president. So my thinking is that the Republicans want to tear him down not for what he represents politically, but what he represents symbolically. Hence, racist.

This seems a bit loaded so let’s take a step back and first consider the problem that the Republicans are currently clamoring over: the debt ceiling. Should we raise it? Yes. Why the fuck not when we’ve done this over and over again throughout history. At some point we should stop using this tactic but now is not the time. It is irresponsible and, quite frankly, dumb as fuck to not raise the debt ceiling when we are in a recession. This is the worst time to be trying to make hard cuts. Save all of the arguments for a time when we have the luxury to say, “Let’s get our budget under control now that we aren’t in a goddamn recession.” Even if Warren Buffett said this in jest, it still shows the insanity of the position that the Republicans are currently taking:

I could end the deficit in 5 minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP all sitting members of congress are ineligible for reelection.

-Warren Buffett

Source

The Republicans are playing with fire (or really, more like a blowtorch) and are hoping to use that fire to burn Obama. The problem with this tactic is that they are going to burn all of us. The citizens of the United States of America. We are the ones who will suffer because the consequences of their actions will hurt us more than any of them. So again I ask, why would the Republicans go this far to make Obama look bad? And remember, they have been using this partisan tactic throughout the presidency which has resulted in sub-optimal results for normal citizens. Things could be a LOT better right now if they just focused on fixing the damn economy together.

Think about conservative media and the amount of propaganda they’ve been pushing to smear Obama’s legitimacy. It started during the election race and has not let up at all during this presidency. All of their “talking points” have been centered around labeling Obama as “different” whether it be through his legitimacy, his ethics, his background, or how he is un-American (He is not a fucking socialist. Please learn some government 101 please.). All of this propaganda can be categorized as a form of racism. Yes, I realize I’m stretching the definition here but using hyperbole seems to be the only way to get heard in America these days. Sadly, I’m one, powerless person who doesn’t have the influence to change anything in the government.

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NBA Lockout and Yao Ming’s Retirement

First off, a shout out to Yao Ming for all of the good he’s done for basketball. I will miss him for his play on court, his admirable conduct off the court, and all of the good he’s done in bridging America and China via basketball. His retirement will be a great loss for the sport and the timing could not be worse with the lockout.

As for this lockout, it’s hard for NBA fans, especially casual ones, to know who is right and who is wrong in the debate. From my point of view, there are some important things to remember no matter whose side you are on:

  1. The owners are running teams as a business. If they lose money, that is because of their poor decision making since some teams are clearly making money. As someone who has watched their parents build a small business from the ground up, do not have any power to negotiate with their union workers, and are dying because of outside forces (changes in US law regarding trade, 9/11 crushing NYC economy, and finally the recession), I have no sympathy for these owners who seem to make bone-headed moves every year (who the fuck signs Arenas to such a huge contract?). An agreement with a union isn’t meant to guarantee profit – it’s supposed to prevent owners from low balling employees. If the owner decides to shell out a ton of money and overpay, that is their problem. Not the union’s.
  2. Many NBA players are overpaid but the majority are not. There is a clear power shift occurring and that is due to the players getting better agents. For some reason, many of the NBA teams do not have the business savvy to negotiate fair contracts. So do not blame the players for simply out-negotiating their boss. I wouldn’t blame myself if I convinced my boss to overpay me an extra 10k a year. Would you?
  3. David Stern deserves some blame for the poor perception of owners in the NBA. The owners are grouped with the league side and in that group are the referees, many of whom are viewed quite poorly at the moment. Over the past decade and a half, the rules have slowly changed to make play more dynamic (read: guards become more valuable) and many fans have failed to keep up with the ever changing rules (hand checking, defensive rules, what constitutes a flagrant/technical foul, and finally the “respect the game” rule). In addition to these changes, the quality of calls made has gone down (one of the basketball statistic sites has analyzed some sample games and has shown this to be true) leading fans to dislike the league and by connection, the owners. So Stern’s moves to “control” the NBA has indirectly screwed the owners.
  4. The insistence on keeping the books private between the owners and the union has left all of us in the dark. So complaining about losses means jack shit to the casual NBA fan because everything we know about the numbers is speculative. If you want any sympathy from us (especially since many franchises have stupidly high ticket prices), show us the numbers. Until then, don’t even try to use such a weak sauce argument to convince people that the owners are “hurting.”

The NBA has been undergoing a transformation in the past decade that is diametrically opposed to the financial plight of the middle class American. We have slowly been losing money relative to inflation while the NBA has been trying to make the game more appealing to the upper class (NBA Cares == a more family oriented sport which attracts more upper class people – remember the lower class already liked the NBA) and in turn, ticket prices have slowly pushed out the more loyal fans (which tends to be those with less money). So the NBA and the owners really shouldn’t be surprised, or even expect, any sympathy from most fans when they are trying to argue financials. This is not a good PR strategy.

 

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