False memories in sexual assault trials

*Trigger warning is in effect*

Spontaneous false memories are a common occurrence. Well intended, honest people often remember scenes they have not actually experienced, or unwittingly replace a detail of an event by another. In court, this kind of false memories make the pursuit of justice challenging, particularly in sexual assault cases, which often hinge exclusively on witness testimony. Fortunately, psychological research on false memories has advanced greatly in the past decades, and, nowadays, can help jurors and judges decide if a testimony, or a portion of it, is reliable.

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Irony: Bill Nye uses a philosophical argument to disparage philosophy

Amused and disappointed. This is how I felt when I saw Bill Nye’s Q&A posted on YouTube on the 23rd of February 2016. In it, the Science Guy, as he is known to my generation, tried to criticize philosophy using a well-known philosophical argument. I was amused because seeing people make fools of themselves is, admittedly, entertaining. I was also disappointed because abject ignorance is discouraging, particularly when displayed by otherwise intelligent people.

There is a lot wrong with Mr. Nye’s entire tirade, but, for brevity, I will focus on the most egregious: the irony of using a philosophical idea to claim that philosophy doesn’t offer meaningful ideas. In the video, Mr. Nye says: “[philosophy] doesn’t always give an answer that’s surprising; it doesn’t always lead you to some place that is inconsistent with common sense.” These two sentences demonstrate how uninformed Mr. Nye is, because he is actually paraphrasing philosopher of science Imre Lakatos. In 1973, Lakatos proposed that a fundamental difference between scientific and pseudo-scientific theories was their ability to lead to unexpected, stunning, novel facts. Before Lakatos, theories were considered scientific as long as they were logically sound, supported by evidence, and, importantly, vulnerable to evidence against it (i.e., refutable).2 For Lakatos, however, this wasn’t enough; to be truly scientific, theories should also imply novel, surprising predictions that turn out to be true (i.e., empirically verified). Einstein’s theory of relativity, for example, has led to the discovery of astonishing, novel facts like black holes.3 Now a common place among scientists and science enthusiasts, black holes were considered and anomaly at the time. Even Einstein doubted that nature could produce such an “aberration.”4 Decades later, in 1971, the first black hole was discovered.5

Lakatos’ proposition, in itself novel and contrary to common sense at the time, has become a pillar of the modern scientific enterprise and it often guides us scientists in our efforts to learn something new about the universe. In other words, it has become standard practice in scientific circles. Perhaps this is the reason Mr. Nye invokes this idea while being unaware that it was conceived by a philosopher.

I have dedicated these paragraphs to comment on Mr. Nye ‘s Big Think Q&A, because there is an important lesson for us science communicators: there are times when one should decline to comment and when it is best to concede that one knows very little about a particular subject. Otherwise, we risk loosing the trust of our audience and, thus, doing a disservice to them and to the scientific community.

References

  1. Lakatos I. The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. New York, NY;  Cambridge University Press: 1989.
  2. Popper K. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York, NY; Routledge: 2002
  3. Taylor N. Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. In Space.com https://www.space.com/17661-theory-general-relativity.html. Accessed: 23rd of August 2017.
  4. Stillman D. Einstein and Beyond. In NASA Education. https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/F_Einstein_5-8.html. Accessed: 24rd of August 2017.
  5. Tayor N. Black Holes: Facts, Theory & Definition. In Space.com. https://www.space.com/15421-black-holes-facts-formation-discovery-sdcmp.html. Accessed: 24rd of August 2017.

The beauty of imperfection: a portrait of human condition

With his sculpture series, Utopias, Santiago Lozano reminds us that our existence falls short of having the perfect geometry and crisp surfaces we all strive to achieve. In fact, his sculptures are a blunt, yet elegant expression of the human condition. A reminder that we are all born geometric figures, seemingly smooth and impollute; until life happens. And life, as it is, merciless, jocular, has marked our souls with bumps, bruises, and scratches; remnants of the hardship we have endured, the traumas that besieged us, the symptoms that make up our habits and neuroses.

Some people have tiny scratches, which are barely noticeable. Others carry larger bumps, which are difficult to conceal. Some others wear those bruises like a badge of honour; like evidence that they are alive; that they loved and hated, cried and laughed, became apart and got reunited.

No matter how unimportant or how consequential, how sinister or how adorable, those bumps, bruises and scratches are proof that we lived; that we didn’t just pass through life. Far from making us deformed and monstrous, those bumps, bruises and scratches actually make each and every one of us unique, interesting, beautiful.

In this this sense, Santiago’s Utopia is more than a homage and a critique of the modernist dream, as he claims. It is also a statement on the meaning of life and the significance of the viscissitudes that define us.

Lies, pseudoscience and “journalism” in Japan’s current nuclear situation

The current situation at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant is a serious matter; and having family in close proximity of it makes it even more serious to me. For this reason, I appreciate the onslaught of emails and phone calls that friends and acquaintances have sent me to express their solidarity. Thank you!

At the same time, I am appalled by the way western media has represented the situation, which has led some people to send me distraught missives about the “imminent” crisis and the lies of the Japanese government. Since I haven’t posted in a while, I seized opportunity to type some words about risk and science communication. Since this is going to be a little bit of a rant, I apologize to my regular readership (that handful of patient people) for having digressed a little, yet again.

Here is my rant:

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Be social in your own terms

Since this post is a digression in this blog, I think I need to explain myself to the regular readers. Last year, I wrote a software manual for an application called Gwibber. Although the guide was originally intended for a local community of users, the Ubuntu Vancouver LoCo, it was later decided that the manual be distributed worldwide. This post is a comment on my experience documenting Gwibber, and it is intended, for the most part, to the Ubuntu community around the world. If you want to know what Ubuntu is, click here. To check my teammate’s post, click here.

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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2010. That’s about 3 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 14 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 19 posts. There were 25 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 5mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 7th with 102 views. The most popular post that day was Playboy model is defeating scientists in PR battle over vaccines.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were WordPress Dashboard, facebook.com, linkedin.com, meetup.com, and thedrunkdrivingmasses.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for rational decisions, cultural conflicts in vancouver, icon arrays, risk communication, and tak ishikawa.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Playboy model is defeating scientists in PR battle over vaccines July 2010
1 comment

2

BC Injury Prevention Conference: puzzles and answers November 2010
5 comments

3

About me July 2010

4

My boyfriend was not a selfish, treacherous bastard… he was just Japanese April 2009

5

Statistics are lies!? Damn not! August 2010
6 comments

BC Injury Prevention Conference: puzzles and answers

Last week, at the at the BC Injury Prevention Conference 2010, some presenters and attendants put forward interesting questions that manifest inconsistencies in people’s behaviour and perception of risk:

  • Why parents have their children wear bicycle helmets, but still refuse to use them?
  • Why more than 70% of Canadians think they drive better than others? Does this indicate that education campaigns have failed?1
  • Why gang related crime gets more police and media attention than road crashes, when the latter produces way more fatalities than the former?1

Continue reading “BC Injury Prevention Conference: puzzles and answers”