Sunday, June 15, 2008

Four Failures of Deliberating Groups by Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie

The abstract (from here).

"Many groups make their decisions through some process of deliberation, usually with the belief that deliberation will improve judgments and predictions. But deliberating groups often fail, in the sense that they make judgments that are false or that fail to take advantage of the information that their members have. There are four such failures. (1) Sometimes the predeliberation errors of group members are amplified, not merely propagated, as a result of deliberation. (2) Groups may fall victim to cascade effects, as the judgments of initial speakers or actors are followed by their successors, who do not disclose what they know. Nondisclosure, on the part of those successors, may be a product of either informational or reputational cascades. (3) As a result of group polarization, groups often end up in a more extreme position in line with their predeliberation tendencies. Sometimes group polarization leads in desirable directions, but there is no assurance to this effect. (4) In deliberating groups, shared information often dominates or crowds out unshared information, ensuring that groups do not learn what their members know. All four errors can be explained by reference to informational signals, reputational pressure, or both. A disturbing result is that many deliberating groups do not improve on, and sometimes do worse than, the predeliberation judgments of their average or median member."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Stupidly Surprised

I've long known to be wary of trusting any media sources and that omission is usually their biggest sin. Yet, I would have thought that when a A US congressman (Dennis Kucinich) called for the impeachment of the president from the house floor, it would make a sound. (Stupid me)

This happened several days ago (the AP story is here) so one would think it would get some mention, even in passing, right?

The Globe and Mail didn't have anything, neither did the Toronto Star. CBC has the 'story' on a page of headlines on CBC radio3.
BBC supposedly has a link, but it doesn't actually go to information about the impeachment.
CNN is overwhelmed with Russert dying, but at least had a story.
The Guardian picked up the AP and added the vote.
And, of course, Al Jazeera had two stories on it.
Heck, Jon Stewart didn't even cover this.

To find out an elected official listed numerous reasons for the impeachment of the most powerful person on the planet, I had to go to a Canadian musician's blog. Further, after some searching, I had to find the AP story on CNN or The Guardian. Still further, to get actual news coverage, I had to go to Al Jazeera.
This occurrence gets both a 'sigh' and a 'so it goes.'

Friday, June 13, 2008

God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut

A short compendium of interviews between Vonnegut and various people that are on the other side of life (an interesting situation as Vonnegut is a humanist and doesn't believe there is an 'other side').
As always, Vonnegut is amusing, witty and irreverent (and a tad misanthropic).
Give it a read or listen.

(about a man who died to save his dog and was asked how it felt to die for a dog)
"At least I didn't die for nothing, like in Vietnam."

Asimov's supposed answer (quoting Satre) to the question of how he was so prolific:
"Hell is other people."

A Darwinian Left by Peter Singer

A short little book about Politics, Evolution and Cooperation. I thought it was excellent as it was succinct yet cogent and informative. Every lefty should give it a read.

(Basically, although the findings of evolution cannot be used to fully deduce ethical systems/premises, they can be used to better understand human nature, and therefore falsify some of the fundamental ideas/claims of thinkers/systems. Such as Rousseau, Marx, Engels, Locke, Mead...)

Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Interesting, quirky, funny, philosophical and wonderfully written. (I should really read more of his stuff.)

Priscilla - “…If there’s such a universal longing for immortality, if the human race is going bananas because it can’t accept any more that it has to die, why do we still have wars? All this military violence seems to contradict your theory.”

Wiggs - “Not in the least… your common man is willin’ to go to war only because he hates death so much.”

“Don’t you see? The enemy represents Death to ‘em. The government propaganda mills paint the enemy as an unfeelin’, devourin’ monster. So, when we go to war we go on a noble mission, a life-affirming mission, whose object is the destruction o’ death. And ‘tis precisely because we hate death so much that we’re too crazed and irrational to see the irony in it. We hate death so bloody much that we will kill – and die – in order to try to halt its march.”

“As a grandiose self-deception, war is o’ the same magnitude as religion. We embrace war or religion – usually both at the same time – as a means o’ defeatin’ death, but neither o’ them do a blinkin’ thing but sanctin dyin’. Throughout history, Death’s best friend has been a priest with a knife.”
(Pgs. 278-279)

Priscilla - “To be or not to be isn’t the question. The question is how to prolong being.”

Wiggs – “Nostalgia and hope stand equally in the way of authentic experience”

“The rich are the most discriminated-against minority in the world. Openly or covertly, everybody hates the rich because, openly or covertly, everybody envies the rich. Me, I love the rich. Somebody has to love them. Sure, a lot o’ rich people are assholes, but believe me, a lot o’ poor people are assholes, too, and an asshole with money can at least pay for his own drinks.”

Narrator - “Their quarrelling chewed through the curtains, pierced the casements, and rattled over the cobblestones outside. How strange it must have sounded, this quarrelling about dematerialization, voluntary aging, goat gods, and immortality, to a city that was primed for the Age of Reason, a populace that was beginning to put Descartes before des horse.
(Pg. 174)

The Dispossessed

An interesting novel that explores the costs and benefits of opposing economic and political structures, but in a manner that allowed for understanding and emotional connection.

Quotation set up: A character who lived on a socialist planet with little unnecessary goods went to a elegant retail street (Saemtenevia Prospect) on a more materialistic planet.
“The whole experience had been so bewildering to him that he put it out of mind as soon as possible, but he had dreams about it for months afterwards, nightmares. Saemtenevia Prospect was two miles long, and it was a solid mass of people, traffic, and things: things to buy, things for sale. Coats, dresses, gowns, robes, trousers, breeches, shirts, blouses, hats, shoes, stockings, scarves, shawls, vests, capes, umbrellas, clothes to wear while sleeping, while swimming, while playing games, while at an afternoon party, while at an evening party, while at a party in the country, while traveling, while at the theatre, while riding horses, gardening, receiving guests, boating, dining, hunting – all different, all in hundreds of different cuts, styles, colours, textures, materials. Perfumes, clocks, lamps, statues, cosmetics, candles, pictures, cameras, games, vases, sofas, kettles, puzzles, pillows, dolls, colanders, hassocks, jewels, carpets, toothpicks, calendars, a baby’s teething rattle of platinum with a handle of rock crystal, an electrical machine to sharpen pencils, a wrist-watch with diamond numerals; figurines and souvenirs and kickshaws and mementos and gewgaws and bric-a-brac, everything either useless to begin with or ornamented so as to disguise its use; acres of luxuries, acres of excrement.”
(Pg. 106)

Another good line from the book (that is describing the materialistic people/planet which is called Urras), which I’ve edited/paraphrased/quoted:
After hearing someone say dirty work, he almost used the expression of his people and said ‘shit processing,’ but he remembered their taboo on scatological words. “He reflected quite early in his stay on Urras, that the Urrasti lived among mountains of excrement, but never mentioned shit.”
(Pg. 120)

Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in the lab


A major evolutionary innovation has unfurled right in front of researchers' eyes. It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait.

And because the species in question is a bacterium, scientists have been able to replay history to show how this evolutionary novelty grew from the accumulation of unpredictable, chance events.

Twenty years ago, evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski of Michigan State University in East Lansing, US, took a single Escherichia coli bacterium and used its descendants to found 12 laboratory populations.

The 12 have been growing ever since, gradually accumulating mutations and evolving for more than 44,000 generations, while Lenski watches what happens.